The Boston Celtics looked like a completely different and improved team Thursday night in Miami.
Just a few days after suffering an embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, the Celtics gave their best performance of the season in a statement win over the Heat.
The Celtics turned a six-point deficit at the end of the first quarter into a commanding 51-33 halftime lead, and the Heat never seriously threatened a comeback in the second half. Boston executed well at both ends of the floor late in the game to secure a 95-78 win.
The victory improves the Celtics' record to 4-5. They will conclude their road trip against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. Tip-off is schedule for 8:30 p.m. ET.
Here are three takeaways from Celtics vs. Heat.
1) C's finally earn signature win
Make no mistake about it -- this victory over the Heat is quite impressive. Miami entered Thursday night having won five consecutive games by 13-plus points, as well as owning the best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-1.
The Celtics held league's highest-scoring offense to a season-low 78 points on 34.6 percent shooting. After giving up an average of 119.5 points through their first seven games, the Celtics have allowed 157 points the last two nights combined.
Boston led by 26 at one point in this game, and that was a product of the team's defense, particularly in the second quarter. The Celtics outscored the Heat 33-9 in that quarter and held Miami to 3-for-13 shooting (0-for-6 from 3-point range) and forced 10 turnovers. It was the best 12 minutes of the Celtics' season so far.
After Monday night's collapse against the Bulls, the Celtics have displayed much better focus, intensity and execution on defense.
2) Nesmith makes strong case for more playing time
Aaron Nesmith struggled with his shot to begin the season, hitting just one of his first 10 3-point attempts and slipping out of head coach Ime Udoka's rotation as a result.
With veteran swingman Josh Richardson out of the lineup, the second-year forward came off the bench and provided much-needed scoring for the Celtics.
Nesmith was on fire from deep, connecting on three of his five 3-point shots (5-for-8 overall) and scoring 13 points in 18 minutes.
Nesmith also made a positive impact on defense. He was diving on the floor for loose balls, crashing the defensive glass and providing the C's with a boost of energy on that end of the floor.
It was exactly the type of performance that will earn Nesmith a consistent and important role on this team throughout the season.
3) Tatum's shooting struggles still a concern
The Celtics beat the top offensive team in the league without their most talented scorer making much of an impact.
Tatum was one of six Celtics players to score in double figures, pouring in 10 points over 29 minutes, but he shot just 3-for-13 from the floor and took only three free throws. Eight of his 13 shot attempts came from outside the paint. He was scoreless halfway through the third quarter.
Tatum is shooting 32.3 percent (34-for-105) over the last five games, and that includes a 17 percent rate (5-for-28) from beyond the arc.
The Celtics need Tatum to be a more efficient scorer to reach their full potential as a team.