By the fourth quarter of Game Five on Wednesday, this is what the Heat had left in the tank:
Here’s what the Celtics have left:
There’s more than that, of course, but if you’re looking for a CliffsNotes version of how a one-point nail-bite turned Boston’s 23-point lead in six minutes plus between the 2:44 mark of the third quarter and the 8:21 mark of the fourth, there are worse places To start. On one side: Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, making their way to 3-point wide open attempts and failing even to graze the edge. On the other hand: Jason Tatum runs past his man before turning into the corner to hit a 3, and Jaylen Brown sprints down the lane before finishing with a tomahawk jam.
After 19 quarters of physically demanding Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston playmakers still had some juice in their legs. Miami did not. And with one chance of winning the NBA Finals, this difference made all the difference in the world:
Brown and Tatum combined for 20 points as they went a perfect 8 of 8 off the field during that six-plus-minute period, resulting in a 24-2 run that ousted the Heat deprived of offensive answers and sent Boston a 93-80 win and 3-2 advantage in the best series of seven. The Celtics could close and write their ticket to the franchise’s first Finals appearance since 2010 at Game 6 on Friday at TD Garden. The Heat, on the other hand, will have to recover from consecutive inspiring losses to stay in the fight.
Miami has done so once already this post-season, responding to a pair of losses against Philadelphia in Round 2 with a stellar performance eliminating 76 players on their court. It will be a lot more difficult this time, though. score against the Celtics defense – the NBA’s strongest unit on the half field during both the regular season and play-off games; A group with the size, power, speed, and ability to navigate every location – a miserable task under optimal conditions. The Miami crime situation is far from ideal at the moment.
Butler, shortlisted for the post-season’s best players through two runs and a dominant force in Game 1 against Boston, has looked like a shell of his own since injuring his right knee in Game Three. Dribbling and lifting on his jump, he’s gone 7 of 32 (21.9 percent) for 19 points over the past two games, resulting in four free throw attempts and five assists in 68 minutes of floor time. Lowry, who was imported on a signing and trading deal and landed a three-year, $85 million deal to be a consistent veteran hand in moments like these, has dealt with a nagging hamstring problem since the first round against Atlanta; He went 1 of 12 with two assists and five turnovers in games 4 and 5 against Boston, scoring just three points in 46 minutes. Max Strus, the primary long-distance option in the starting lineup, has also had hamstring issues, and has missed all 16 field shootings in the past two games. And Tyler Hero, the sixth man of the year award-winning and most credible Miami locksmith coach Eric Spoelstra, has to hire elite defenses in the half, and missed games 4 and 5 due to a groin strain.
The Heat consistently refuse to attribute their offensive struggles to injury, accepting no excuses to score 80.6 points per 100 possessions out of waste time over the past two games; For reference, the NBA’s worst attacking average during the regular season was 104.7 points per 100. At one point, though, if the only periphery players you have are able to beat the opposing defender out of dribbling, creating an open appearance are Victor Oladipo (who went 1 of 7 with 4 turnovers in Game 5 after the breakout of Game 4) and Gabe Vincent (who was the most effective player in Miami for extended periods on Wednesday), then you no She has enough to beat the Celtics’ defense and that’s fine And In something almost full force, with Marcus Smart (ankle) and Robert Williams III (knee) back in the lineup. You have to do something different. You need to tilt the math. And Spoelstra had the Heat ready to try and do just that by entering the first half of Game 5.
Spoelstra dialed actions designed to move Williams, an absolute threat to his paintball when he’s healthy in the series, away from basketball to create driving lanes and chances that Lords couldn’t have had an effect. He instructed the Miami players to increase their aggression on the offensive glass, especially if Williams was pulled from the paint, and prioritize that extra possession as a vital source of buckets against the Boston D. Outcome: 9-2 attacking advantage in first-half rebounding, 16-2 advantage in points of opportunity the second.
Spo appealed to The Heat not only to settle for the contested first look they found, but instead to redouble their efforts to generate the kinds of attempts they’ve celebrated all season. To achieve this, coach stopped struggling reserve position Dewayne Dedmon and leaned hard on the small reserve ball formations featuring PJ Tucker at the center. The idea was to publish the Celtics and make them easier to look at with a high percentage. Sure enough, after taking five 3-second corner kicks and 13 over the edge in Game 4, Miami attempted seven 3-second corner kicks and 16 shots over the edge in Game 5 first half.
The Heat also stressed the importance of forcing Celtics ball players to engage in the type of live ball that could lead to transitional opportunities. After creating only nine turnovers in Game 4, Miami had 10 turnovers in the first two quarters of Game 5, four of which belonged to Brown. Add all that up, and the Heat were winning the possession game – more offensive rebounds, fewer turns, more field runs – letting them hang around despite only going 18 of 48 off the ground and 4 of 21 of 3 to two quarters.
It wasn’t pretty, but Spoelstra and his crew were able to help duct tape and a battered duct channel their way to the lead at the break by smashing Boston’s attack to just 37 points on a 38.2 percent shot. The Celtics’ offensive team struggles, combined with Tatum frequently rubbing his right shoulder, combined with the pressure of playing a swing game on the road, combined with Boston’s creeping fear of their fourth Conference Finals trip in six seasons come to no avail…well… , probably made the letter C blink and clip the second half.
Or maybe not.
“We kept our composure. We still depended on our defence, we stayed solid there, and we knew if we continued our attacking game, we took care of the ball, we would be in good shape,” Celtics coach Emi Udoka told reporters after the game. We guard at a high enough level that even if we go through the corner offensively, we will be in good shape. That’s what the message was: We don’t give our best, [it’s still a] A close match, and if we only had a decent half, above average, we’d be in great shape.”
The Celtics only coughed five times the rest of the way, with Brown, in particular, making more precise decisions with the ball. Use fast driving and quick decision making to score 19 points from his game-high 25 points in the second half. (When asked to rate the difference between Brown’s first half and his second, Udoka simply replied, “He didn’t turn it.”) By not giving the ball away, Boston forced Miami to try and break their defense in the set—a process made even more stringent by Udoka when Payton Pritchard, his only semi-stellar defender, was instead giving more minutes to Smart and Derek White (who were Lovely Since returning after losing Game 3 to the birth of his son). Odoka also modified the Boston assignments for the Miami front court players.
He transferred Smart from Butler, putting Al Horford and Grant Williams on the Heat star instead. “Butler wasn’t looking to score,” Odoka explained after the match. “He was more of a sorter, playing in the pocket. He was slipping behind some of our keys. We wanted to keep him big, and play him like big.” This led to Smart turning to Tucker, allowing this defensive player of the year to play a free-roaming safety role helping out of corners, and transferring the Time Lord to Bam Adebayo, who leans toward passive play when facing taller defenders – see: The Struggle Against Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo when the Miami Bucks swept their last postseason – manifested in a huge drop in production when Williams was touring.
And with no one in Miami seemingly able to throw a marble into the ocean lately — the Heat only moved 7 of 45 from the 3-point range in Game 5, dropping to 29.2 percent as a team for the series — Udoka has encouraged letting his minions sit in Drop case, plug the paint, and dare make C pay for it. They could not:
When the long-distance attempts were lost, Boston was ready for it. The Celtics sought every opportunity to get defensive rebounds and beat the defending Heat once again in the transition. Miami recovered 10 of its second-half errors, but scored only eight of them; Boston, from now on, had nine fast break points, mostly using the Heat’s aggressiveness against them. “When we stop to get out and run, we’re kind of a killer team on both sides,” Odoka said.
The heat can also be when everything clicks. After Wednesday’s game, Spoelstra repeatedly expressed confidence in the kinds of looks Miami was able to achieve before the end of the third quarter, saying he felt the Heat more like the kind of attack they’ve had all season “if you remove the emotions of a foul.”
Then he looked down the square’s result, and could not even remove the feelings of errors.
Well, that’s not a great 3-point ratio,” Spoelstra said with a laugh. “We all felt it. We’ve all seen it…Look, they’re a great defense. It’s not like we’re going to score 130. What I look at is we get shots in our wheelhouse, shots that are in our strengths. If we miss some of those shots, You can’t just panic and try to reinvent things.”
That’s what a great defense like Boston can do, though: It makes you panic, makes you hurry, and makes you see ghosts. Clears paths to points you’ve used for seven months, and forces you to search for new points on the go. Over the course of a seven-game series, this can weaken even elite competitors. That’s what Odoka depends on.
“I think the mental stress and pressure we put on some teams with our defense has worked and carried us through qualifying at times,” he said. “I saw in the Brooklyn series, guys started to wear down. Games 7 [against the Bucks]Antetokounmpo slowed some. Keeping throwing all those corpses at people exhausts them both physically and mentally, which makes it difficult. As long as we don’t give them easy baskets in transition, with our guys, we’re always confident that they’ll move on and figure things out eventually.”
Herro may return on Friday, giving Miami another innovator to relieve some of that stress and tension. Perhaps Adebayo, who scored eight points in a two-minute period in the fourth quarter after the match was largely out of control, could carry that aggressiveness into the sixth game (“Put it on me,” he said after the match, which I imagined pushed quite a number of Heat fans to think, ‘We did it tries toOh man, but you don’t seem too interested in looking over the edge most of the time. ‘) Perhaps some hitherto untried remedy can get some juice back into Butler and Lori’s legs; perhaps some early buckets can get Strus out of the Schneids; perhaps Spo finds another source of attack somewhere in the depths of the playbook. Heat already has a game in Boston in this series, and the Celtics know all too well that a team fighting for their 3-2 losing season on the road can be dangerous; just ask Milwaukee.
“You know, if you want to break through to the finals, you have to do some really hard things,” Spoelstra said.
However, watching these two previous games, it seems that this is all that is left in Miami: maybs. And with another crushing defensive performance, the Celtics may also take away those.