Heat made adjustments to change 3-point math in Game 2. Is it sustainable and how will Celtics respond?

After a 20-point loss in Game 1 on Sunday, many expected the Boston Celtics to cruise to another double-digit win over the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat in Game 2. But the Heat flipped the script on the Celtics in more ways than one.

Not only was it the undermanned eighth-seeded Heat that came away with a double-digit 111-101 win over the top-seeded Celtics in Game 2 on Wednesday night at TD Garden to steal home-court advantage and tie the first round playoff series at 1-1, but the Heat also did it by beating the Celtics at their own game.

Just two nights after the Celtics crushed the Heat by 30 points from behind the three-point line in Game 1, the Heat tilted the math in its favor by taking and making more threes to outscore the Celtics by 33 points from behind the arc on its way to winning Game 2 despite losing the paint battle 46-26.

“They hit a lot of threes,” Celtics guard Jrue Holiday said. “They took a lot, they hit a lot and I think that kind of fueled them.”

The Heat set a franchise record for threes made in a playoff game, shooting 23 of 43 (53.5 percent) from three-point range. It’s also the most threes the Heat has made in a game this season, tied for the second most threes the Heat has made in any game in franchise history and tied for the fourth most threes any team has hit in a playoff game in NBA history.

“Honestly, I thought we generated the same looks in the first game,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “Just guys, including myself, weren’t taking them. The talk among the team was to just be aggressive, take the open shots. If they give it to us, don’t hesitate and let it go.”

The Heat definitely didn’t hesitate, as its game plan to put up more threes in Game 2 was clear from the start with 16 of Miami’s first 20 shots coming from three-point range. The Heat attempted 43 or more threes for the fourth time this season after shooting 12 of 37 (32.4 percent) from behind the arc in Game 1.

Most of the shots were open for the Heat, too, as the Celtics continued to prioritize sending extra defenders at the Bam Adebayo-Herro pick-and-roll. Most of Adebayo’s rolls and Herro’s drives off an Adebayo screen drew extra Celtics defenders, which is a big reason 10 of Herro’s career-high 14 assists resulted in three-pointers.

The Celtics also brought extra defenders to cut off some of the Heat’s drives, including those from rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr.

As a result, 37 of the Heat’s 43 three-point attempts fell into the “open” (when closest defender is four to six feet away) or “wide open” (when closest defender is more than six feet away) categories in Game 2, according to NBA tracking stats. The Heat shot 21 of 37 (56.8 percent) on those open and wide open threes, with 23 of those 37 three-point attempts labeled as wide open.

“The threes, yeah, that’s how they’re scheming us so far,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, with the series now in the middle of another two-day break before moving to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday (6 p.m. TNT and Bally Sports Sun). “Packing the paint and putting an extra defender in front of Tyler or Jaime or whoever is attacking the paint. Those are the available shots. You have to trust, whether it’s a make or a miss. That’s the right play and you have to make that play over and over and over, and we were doing that tonight.”

Herro, one of the Heat’s top three-point shooters, made a team-high six threes and shot a team-high 11 threes in Game 2.

But some of the Heat’s perceived non-shooters or low-volume three-point shooters such as Caleb Martin, Jaquez and Haywood Highsmith also made outside shots. Martin finished 5 of 6 on threes, Jaquez closed 3 of 6 on threes and Highsmith shot 3 of 5 on threes.

“When you go through a game plan, it’s impossible to say we’re going to take away every single thing,” Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum said. “There are certain guys on the floor that you would rather shoot than others. That’s any NBA game you’re going to play. But guys are in the NBA for a reason. Everybody is capable, there’s a lot of capable shooters out there. Anybody can get hot.”

The Heat also made an adjustment on the defense in Game 2 to change the math, switching more often and sending less early help and double-teams to limit the Celtics to just 32 three-point attempts on Wednesday after they shot 49 threes in Game 1. It marked just the fifth time this season that Boston has shot 32 or fewer threes in a game.

Considering the Celtics finished the regular season averaging a league-high 42.5 three-point shot attempts per game while also recording the NBA’s second-best team three-point percentage at 38.8 percent, it’s no surprise that Game 2 was the first time this season that Boston has been outscored by 30 or more points from behind the arc. In fact, Wednesday was the first time since Dec. 10, 2021, that the Celtics have been outscored by 33 or more points on threes in any game.

“That’s part of their game plan, they’re going to leave certain guys open,” Martin said. “You play into the game plan if you hesitate to shoot. I think all of our guys are very, very capable shooters and we shoot the ball too good as a team to hesitate and that only hurts us. We should never hesitate.”

The question is: Will the Celtics feel the need to adjust their defensive game plan after the Heat’s historic three-point shooting display in Game 2? Or do Boston’s coaches view it as an outlier that they’re willing to dare Miami to replicate?

“We’re going to have to find the balance because a lot of those guys that made shots tonight are also good drivers, especially getting downhill,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “So we’re going to have to find that balance of making sure we close out appropriately. But we don’t want to start opening up the other side of that. So that will be the adjustment.”

But it sounds like the Celtics will continue to send extra defenders at the Adebayo-Herro pick-and-roll. The Celtics appear to be willing to keep giving up three-point looks to defend that action, especially with Butler (sprained MCL) and Terry Rozier (neck spasms) unavailable to make Boston pay.

“You have to look at the other side of the adjustment,” Mazzulla continued. “So the Herro-Adebayo pick-and-roll is dangerous in itself. You start going to switching or you start inching out to those [three-point shooters] and not having shifts and then you’re making that a 2-on-2 game with their two best players. So the first adjustment is to try to become more efficient on the offensive end.”

The Celtics posted the NBA’s top offensive rating this regular season, so banking on a better offensive performance in Game 3 after scoring just 40 points in the second half of Game 2 is a logical expectation.

But the open threes, albeit probably not as many as in Game 2, could still be there for the Heat in Games 3 and beyond. Miami’s challenge will be to continue taking and making threes to force Boston to change its game plan or simply continue to beat Boston at its own game.

“We’ve been doubted a lot through our playoff runs,” Adebayo said. “There’s people saying we couldn’t do a lot of the stuff that we did. So for me and my team, it’s like why lose belief now? Backs against the wall, everybody is always against us. Use it as fuel.”