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Winderman’s view: Heat stare down big challenge in series opener, solve Celtics

BOSTON – Observations and other notes of interest from Wednesday night’s 123-116 NBA playoff victory over the Boston Celtics:

– A big problem?

– It certainly looked that way at the outset, when Robert Williams was dominating inside early for the Celtics.

– It looked that way when Heat backup center Cody Zeller struggled in his opening stint (and later his ensuing stint).

– It looked that way when the Heat tried to play Max Strus on Al Horford, as they did during the regular season.

– And it looked that way when Kevin Love was taken off the floor when the Celtics went small.

– But to their credit, and the credit of coach Erik Spoelstra, the Heat then problem solved.

– With effort and energy going a long way.

– Which is the way it is going to have to be.

– With the Heat not getting any taller amid the course of this series.

– The Heat’s power rotation behind Bam Adebayo might not be where it was when Dewayne Dedmon was getting the minutes at backup center.

– That was particularly bad.

– But, size, as expected, is an issue for Spoelstra’s team.

– Sort of Bam or bust.

– Then Adebayo stepped up in the second half.

– And his teammates followed.

– It’s sort of the story of this season.

– Tell the Heat what they can’t be, and they find a way.

– Not necessarily a problem solved against the taller Celtics.

– But comforting in that there was no capitulation.

– So it was Caleb Martin at power forward at times.

– And then Jimmy Butler, too.

– Zeller was a nice story at the buyout deadline.

– But there might be an expiration date at this stage of the playoffs.

– Going big got the Celtics past the 76ers.

– They aren’t backing down now.

– So the Heat simply stepped up.

– Spoelstra is all about adjustments.

– As are his players.

– What a fascinating case study.

– The Heat stayed with the starting lineup they moved to early in the first round, opening with Adebayo, Love, Butler, Strus and Gabe Vincent.

– The ability to stay big helped with the Celtics opening with Williams, Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

– Boston earlier in the postseason had opened with Derrick White in place of Williams.

– The Heat opened with Butler on Tatum, Vincent on Brown, Strus on Smart, Adebayo on Williams and Love on Horford.

– Adebayo then moved over to Brown when Horford went out, allowing Love to defend Williams.

– The Heat’s first reserve was Martin, who entered for Love amid the downsizing.

– Zeller and Kyle Lowry then followed together for the Heat.

– With Duncan Robinson making it nine deep.

– The game was Robinson’s 50th career playoff appearance.

– No 10 deep this time with Haywood Highsmith.

– Spoelstra entered with ample respect for the Celtics.

– “You get to this point, four teams standing, you’re not playing bad teams, you’re not playing teams that haven’t been through stuff,” he said. “They’ve shown resilience, winning a seven-game series [against the 76ers], and they do it on both sides of the ball.”

– He added, “They’re obviously very explosive offensively. But defensively, they’re sound and they know what they’re trying to get accomplished on that end of the court.”

– Among the primary concerns going in was blow-by drives by Tatum and Brown.

– “It’s easier said than done,” Spoelstra said of defending such actions. “You have to do your work early. Weakside defenders have to be in their spots early. Those drives are opening up, they’re a very good driving team because of those two guys collapsing your defense and they have spacing, and they’re very disciplined with their spacing with a bunch of 40-percent three-point shooters.”

– He added, “You got to scramble and make multiple efforts. There’s no easy way, but there is a way. You just have to commit to those kind of efforts.”

– Said Vincent on the subject, “The more we can defend without fouling, trying to keep a body in front of them, the better off. It’ll be a full team effort, all five. It’s not going to be one guy on an island.”

– Of the Celtics going with their big starting lineup with Williams in the middle, Adebayo said, “I mean he brings obviously a shot-blocker, a guy who runs the floor and clogs up the paint.”

– Of staying with his big lineup, Celtics rookie coach Joe Mazzulla said, “I just thought about it in the sense of defensive versatility, a lob threat on the offensive end.”

– With Mazzulla in his first year, Spoelstra was asked to reflect about his year in 2008-09.

– “I don’t remember. I remember getting heckled like crazy my first game in New York. That was my first game of my career. Everybody was saying that I was out past my bedtime. (Laughter.) I do remember that.”

– Adebayo’s second rebound was the 500th of his playoff career.

– Martin’s first steal was the 20th of his playoff career.

– Among those in the crowd were Bill Belichick, who actually smiled when introduced on the video board.

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