Heat out to prove it has turned corner after ‘humbling’ loss to Celtics: ‘We’re a different team’

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The Boston Celtics’ last trip to Miami produced one of the best offensive performances in NBA history. On the other side of that epic night for the Celtics was one of the worst defensive displays in Miami Heat history.

“That was a very humbling night,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following Saturday’s morning practice at Kaseya Center.

“That wasn’t us,” Heat veteran Kevin Love said.

The Celtics totaled 143 points on 63.8 percent shooting from the field, 22-of-40 (55 percent) shooting from three-point range and 19-of-20 (95 percent) shooting from the foul line, becoming just the third team in NBA history to hit all those marks in a game on their way to a 143-110 blowout win over the Heat on Jan. 25 at Kaseya Center. It marked the third-most points the Heat has allowed in any game in franchise history.

On top of all that, the Heat allowed 149 points per 100 possessions in the loss for its worst single-game defensive rating since at least the 1996-97 season.

But less than three weeks after that defensive debacle, the Heat will have an opportunity for revenge when it hosts the ultra-talented Celtics on Sunday (2 p.m., ABC) to close its four-game homestand. The Celtics hold the NBA’s best record at 40-12 this season, entering Saturday with the NBA’s second-best offensive rating and third-best defensive rating.

“Definitely a good barometer,” Love said ahead of Sunday’s matchup against the Celtics. “Probably been the best team all year. Really shot it well here. But certainly on our home floor, we want to have a better showing, make it be super competitive and try to get a win here at home.”

The Heat’s 33-point home loss to the Celtics last month went down as its fifth straight defeat during what ended up as a seven-game skid and its longest losing streak since the 2007-08 season. The Heat posted an awful defensive rating of 124.2 points allowed per 100 possessions during that string of seven straight losses, which ranked fourth-worst in the NBA during that stretch.

But since that seven-game skid, the Heat has won four of its last five games behind its defense.

The Heat’s defense has returned to form, allowing just 103.9 points per 100 possessions in the last five games for the NBA’s second-best defensive rating during this span.

“Quite a bit,” Spoelstra said when asked how much the Heat has improved since losing to the Celtics at home a few weeks ago. “We had to, obviously, address some things. Get on the same page, and sometimes that happens from being humbled.”

Some may point to the fact that the Heat has faced just one top-10 offense (Los Angeles Clippers) and three bottom-10 offenses (Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs) in the last five games. But the Heat will get a chance to prove its defensive turnaround is real against the Celtics’ high-powered offense on Sunday.

Whether its zone or man, the Heat’s defense has been much better at containing the ball and allowing fewer blow-by drives on the perimeter. That’s helped to limit opponents to an NBA-low 14.2 shots from within the restricted area per game during this 4-1 stretch after opponents generated 23.3 shots at the rim per game during the seven-game skid.

With those recent positive results, the Heat’s defense is again a top-10 unit. Miami entered Saturday with the NBA’s ninth-ranked defensive rating this season.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements, a lot of adjustments and a lot of commitment to certain things on our end,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said of the Heat’s recent defensive surge. “So I feel like we’re a different team than we were back then.”

Back then was less than a month ago, when the Celtics turned in one of the best shooting performances in NBA history against the Heat. But the Heat feels like a lot has changed — for the better— in a short time, and coaches and players will look to prove it against the Celtics on Sunday.

“Boston has played very good basketball this season,” Spoelstra said. “That’s why they have the best record in the league. It was only, what, two and a half weeks ago? It feels like it was three months ago. That was part of the reason why we had to face some harsh realities and truth that we’ve had to address, and we’re starting to find some footing. But we still have a long way to go to get a real breakthrough.”

ALONDES’ PROMOTION

Yes, guard Alondes Williams is averaging 20.3 points per game and has already scored 55 points and 42 points with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, this season.

But it’s the development of other areas of Williams’ game that earned him a two-way contract from the Heat. The news of Williams’ new two-way deal was announced on Friday night.

“It was more about the overall development,” Spoelstra said Saturday. “I think it’s easy to point to some big scoring games. That was really down the list for us. Sure, it’s great that he was able to have those kinds of nights. But it was really about previously playing the role, defending and doing a lot of intangibles and impacting winning while the rest of his game was improving.”

The 24-year-old Williams, who went undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2022, has averaged 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 37.3 percent on threes for the Skyforce this season. He was named a G League All-Star and also was selected to take part in the Rising Stars Game during NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis next week.

“He earned [the two-way contract], Spoelstra said. “He was extremely coachable, he’s been coachable, he’s had a great positive approach there in Sioux Falls. You’re happy to reward someone like that.”

The Heat released guard RJ Hampton from his two-way contract to create the opening for Williams.

“On the flip side, you also feel bad for RJ,” Spoelstra said. “He put in a lot of time and he also got better. Some of this is circumstantial, and the injury and the missed time for RJ at the beginning of the season was tough for him. But he will have an opportunity, if he chooses, to come back to Sioux Falls and we’ll see what he decides.”

INJURY REPORT

The Heat listed Jimmy Butler (personal reasons) as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Celtics.

Butler missed practice on Friday and Saturday with excused absences, but the team is hopeful that he’ll play in Sunday’s contest.

The only others on the Heat’s injury report are Dru Smith (season-ending knee surgery), Cole Swider (G League) and Williams (G League). All three players have been ruled out for Sunday’s game.