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NBA Finals-bound Celtics beat Heat with picture-perfect defense, but did that prep them for their next test?


Six days before the Boston Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on the road, they desperately needed to win Game 4 at home. They were down 2-1 in the series, and they were coming off a disheartening loss in which Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler played zero second-half minutes. 

During coach Ime Udoka's pre-game press conference last Monday, a reporter asked about an unusual stat that had turned into a talking point: The Celtics had only outright lost two quarters in three games. Udoka said that the important thing was not how many 12-minute periods they had lost, exactly, but “being consistent and not falling off a cliff the way we did in those two quarters when our offense is not flowing.” Boston had allowed 39 points in the third quarter in the opener, and it had given up the exact same number in the first quarter of Game 3.

“More so than anything, we like to keep teams in the mid-to-low-20s per quarter,” Udoka said.

The mid-to-low-20s. That, in the NBA of 2022, is an absurd goal. This is a league in which the Oklahoma City Thunder, its worst offensive team, averaged 103.7 points per game, i.e. about 26 points per quarter.

In the Finals, that mid-to-low-20s goal might actually be absurd, even for Boston.

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