The Boston Celtics all of a sudden are in a real fight for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The C's lost to the Miami Heat 112-106 on Tuesday night. Even without its best player in Jimmy Butler, Miami was able to stave off a late Celtics comeback attempt and move within 1.5 games of Boston in third place.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nets, which begins Wednesday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.
Let's take a look at three instant overreactions from Celtics vs. Heat and assess their merit.
1. The Celtics will lose the No. 3 seed
The Celtics' advantage over the Heat for third place in the Eastern Conference is just 1.5 games with five seeding matchups remaining. It's a slim lead, but the C's are still a good bet to secure the No. 3 seed, and one of the biggest reasons why is their schedule.
Here's a look at Boston's remaining seeding game slate:
Aug. 5 vs. Brooklyn Nets
Aug. 7 vs. Toronto Raptors
Aug. 9 vs. Orlando Magic
Aug. 11 vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Aug. 13 vs. Washington Wizards
Brooklyn is one of the worst teams in the bubble. Yes, the Nets did earn an impressive win over the Bucks on Tuesday, but Milwaukee's best players didn't play much in the second half. The Raptors game is without a doubt the toughest matchup for the C's, but they have beaten Toronto twice already this season. The Magic are another one of the worst teams taking part in the restart, and they've allowed an average of 118 points in three games.
The Grizzlies are a young, inexperienced team that just lost star forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (torn meniscus) for the rest of the season. The Wizards are actually the worst team in the bubble, and the C's should have little trouble with Washington if the game ends up being important at that stage of the playoff race.
There's no reason why the C's shouldn't finish 4-1 in their remaining seeding games and clinch the No. 3 seed. Boston also has plenty of motivation to finish third because if the Celtics slip to the No. 4 seed, they would have to play the first-place Bucks in the second round instead of in the Conference Finals. Avoiding the Bucks for as long as possible come playoff time is the ideal scenario.
2. Celtics' defense vs. centers is a problem
Verdict: Not an overreaction
Defending opposing centers who can score has been a problem for Boston all season due to its lack of frontcourt size and depth, and the situation hasn't improved inside the Orlando bubble.
Heat center Bam Adebayo poured in 21 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, including this offensive board late in the second quarter where he scored to increase Miami's lead to 58-47:
Stop him. We dare you. pic.twitter.com/gzvSsS1Rrx— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) August 4, 2020
Adebayo isn't the only center who's played at a very high level against the Celtics since they traveled down to the bubble. Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams posted 17 points and seven rebounds in limited action during a scrimmage last week, and Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic dropped 30 points with nine rebounds against the C's on Sunday.
The Celtics need to do a much better job defensively against these offensively gifted centers if they're going to make a deep run in the playoffs. The most likely first-round matchup for the Celtics right now is against the Philadelphia 76ers and their All-NBA center Joel Embiid. Embiid has scored 68 points with 30 rebounds in Philly's first two seeding games.
3. Jaylen Brown has been Celtics' best player in the bubble
Verdict: Not an overreaction
Brown poured in 18 points with a team-high 10 rebounds against the Heat, giving him seven double-doubles on the season.
The 23-year-old shooting guard is the only Celtics player who's scored 18-plus points in all three seeding games. Here's a quick look at Brown's stat lines from the bubble so far:
vs. Bucks: 22 points, four rebounds
vs. Blazers: 30 points, 6-for-8 on 3-pointers, six rebounds, two steals
vs. Heat: 18 points, 10 rebounds, two steals
Brown also brought tremendous energy throughout Tuesday's matchup, especially in the third quarter when the C's trimmed the Heat lead to 69-68. Whether it was crashing the glass, attacking the rim or giving max effort defensively, Brown's energy was contagious and helped spark a Celtics run. Included in that run was this powerful dunk from Brown:
Brown is in the midst of his best season as a Celtic, and he's picked up right where he left off when the season was paused in March. It's a very encouraging sign for the Celtics as the playoffs near.