Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Code red controversy fuels Heat in Game 2 shocker over Celtics

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BOSTON — A familiar atmosphere emanated from the visitors’ locker room of TD Garden on Wednesday night. The Miami Heat, just as they did after Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference finals, raucously celebrated another road victory over the Boston Celtics. Players cheered. Pacificos flowed. Music blared.

This might have been only Game 2 of a first-round NBA playoff series, but these Heat had extra fuel.

“We code red,” one player could be heard shouting from the locker room following Miami’s 111-101, series-tying upset. “We code-redding s***.”

He was referencing a comment made by former Celtics forward turned broadcaster Brian Scalabrine in the aftermath of Boston’s blowout Game 1 win. Scalabrine had called Caleb Martin’s undercut of Celtics star Jayson Tatum “shady,” suggesting that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra used a late timeout to order a so-called “code red.”

Both teams spent their days off downplaying the faux controversy, only the Heat took it to heart.

And why not? They were double-digit underdogs for the second straight game. This was supposed to be the league’s most lopsided series, what with Jimmy Butler and Terry Rozier both sidelined for the eighth seed. The talent gap against the 64-win Celtics seemed insurmountable.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple math lesson. Boston made 22 3-pointers to Miami’s 12 in Game 1. Anyone who listened to the Heat repeatedly note that 30-point margin in Sunday’s postgame interviews could see the adjustment coming Wednesday: Fire at will. And that they did, making a franchise playoff-record 23 triples on 43 attempts (53.5%) to beat the Celtics by 33 points at the arc.

“Honestly, I thought we generated the same looks in the first game,” said Tyler Herro, whose 24 points (on 6-for-11 shooting from 3) led Miami. “Guys, including myself, just didn’t take them. The talk amongst the team was to be aggressive, take the open shots. If they give it to us, don’t hesitate. Let it go.”

“That’s part of their game plan, too, they’re going to leave certain guys open,” added Martin, who scored 21 points and made five of his six 3-point attempts. “You play to the game plan, and you don’t hesitate to shoot. I think all of our guys are very, very capable shooters, and we shoot the ball too good to hesitate.”

As obvious as the game plan was, the Heat downplayed the idea that this was a simple math equation, some anomaly, that they cannot recreate the magic — that they will not beat these Celtics otherwise. This was guts, they said. Another win for Heat Culture, “the hardest working, best conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, meanest, nastiest team in the NBA,” as their home court reminds us.

“I think the focus was just to score more points and they score less,” Heat rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “That’s kind of what it was. We just wanted it more. … It just came down to toughness and will to win.”

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 24: Tyler Herro #14 of the Miami Heat celebrates a three-point basket as he runs past Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics during the third quarter of game two of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at TD Garden on April 24, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Tyler Herro led the Heat with 24 points and 14 assists in Game 2. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

And why wouldn’t they trust a culture that defied the odds last season, when they beat another heavily favored Celtics team to become the second No. 8 seed ever to reach the NBA Finals — three years after they did it as a fifth seed. This wasn’t just the 3s, they will tell you; it’s basketball. It’s finding a way to win.

“We’ve been doubted a lot throughout our playoff runs,” said Bam Adebayo, who did his damage inside the arc, making nine of Miami’s 14 2-point field goals. “There’s people saying we couldn’t do a lot of stuff that we did. So, for me and my team, it’s like: Why lose belief now? Backs against the wall, everybody already against us, use it as fuel. A lot of people seem to think we’re going to buy into what they say, that we can’t get it done, and let it seep into our locker room. It’s different. Our guys believe we can win. We get in between those lines. We make it about basketball. We don’t make it about schemes. We don’t make it about this guy and that guy. We make it about mano a mano, get in that cage fight, and let’s hoop.”

Of course, there is extra juice to this rivalry, and not just from the code red controversy. Following Game 1, Celtics center Kristaps Porziņģis said of Adebayo, “I don’t care about him. I care about our team and what we’re trying to achieve.” Adebayo was asked about those comments, absent substantive context.

“I’m not on social media, so I don’t hear that noise,” said Adebayo, who — in conjunction with a swarm of swiping hands around him — helped limit Porziņģis to just six points on 1-for-9 shooting. “It is what it is. He can say what he wants. We’re just going to go out there in between those lines and handle business.”

The two teams understand the math now. What the Celtics cannot equate is how much confidence the Heat draw from this. You could hear it from the hallways of TD Garden. They believe, even if you don’t.

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