BOSTON – From a sweeping series to a serious series, the Boston Celtics turn the Eastern Conference Finals around.
They’re still in a big hole, but won again handily Thursday, 110-97, in Game 5 over the Miami Heat, four of their starting players scoring at least 20 points, and now have two wins after becoming the first team in NBA history to win. Series after trailing, 3-0.
Game Six is at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in Miami. The Celtics have won their last two games by a combined 30 points. Boston never trailed Thursday and lead by 24 – it was a 15-point game after the first quarter.
“It’s just saying our backs are against the wall and we’re holding on to each other and we’re competing at a high level to give ourselves a chance,” Boston coach Joe Mazzola said.
The Celtics’ backcourt of Derrick White and Marcus Smart easily had the best games of the series. They took advantage of the loss of Heat starting guard Gabe Vincent (sprained left ankle) and fell victim to Max Stross and Vincent’s replacement, Kyle Lowry.
White, who opened the Conference Finals as a reserve, went on to score 24 points in Six 3, along with two steals. Smart added 23 points (four 3rds) and five steals.
“He just plays defensive variety and does a great job with attention to detail about people’s tendencies,” Mazzola said of White. Of Smart, he said: “It’s just an emotional switch for us. When he locks the ball and plays both sides of it at a different pace, it kind of gives us our identity and our life.”
Jason Tatum nearly hit a triple-double (21 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, Jaylen Brown added 21 points.) Tatum got Boston with 12 points in the first, including a dunk with 3:18 left that put Miami out For the second time. from the game. The Celtics were already up 15 points by then, and the closest the game could get was 11, in the second quarter.
Neither Bam Adebayo (16 points, eight rebounds) nor Jimmy Butler (14 points) played in this explosive fourth quarter. Miami turned to Heywood Highsmith for the first time in the series and had 15 points off the bench, as did Caleb Martin (14 points) and Duncan Robinson (18 points).
Lowry and Strus gave the Heat a little bit (they combined for eight points on 3-of-10 shooting). Miami was again a mess with turnovers (16 vs. 27 Celtics points) and gave up 17 points at a second chance. The Celtics continued another recent trend, and it was hot again from the 3-point range.
“Their activity level has been up in the last two games, which is what you should expect in a competitive playoff series,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “And then we play to a very little crowd. There can be some good things out of that, if we read the game, read the covers and do the proper plays.
“But you have to give them credit for this activity,” Spoelstra continued. “They jammed us a few times in the paint with quick hands, strips, things like that. We have to back that up. That’s two games in a row of that. We have to get aggressive and then make the right plays with the right spaces.”
Just one win would bring that series back to Boston in an unlikely Game 7 on Monday, with plenty of history on the line as well as a berth in the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
As you know, none of the 150 teams that went down 3-0 in a single series came back to win. Even just three teams forced a Game 7. It wasn’t long before the Celtics were swept, with fair questions being asked about Mazzulla’s future in Boston, and the roster’s future as it stands.
“Yeah, Game 3 was obviously tough, but I mean, all year we’ve been connected in the locker room, we’ve had each other’s backs, and I was confident we were going to come back and just compete,” White said. “We’ve done that in the last two games.”
On the flip side, the Heat are still trying to become the second-ever No. 8 seed to reach the Finals and the first since 1999. They’re 0-for-2 in their first two runs, and they don’t. Want to see how it feels from 0-3.
“The last two games we are not who we are,” said Butler. “It happened like this. We stopped playing defense halfway through because we didn’t take the shots we wanted. But that can be easily rectified. You just have to go out and play harder than the jump. As I always say, it’ll be all smiles and we’ll keep it very consistent, with Knowing that we will win the next game.”
Celtics look like themselves
It took the Celtics until halftime in Game 4 to figure things out, but they put together their all-around masterpiece in Game 5 to make the possibility of an 0-3 comeback seem shockingly real.
Boston’s contested shooting was unsustainably good, but their attention to detail and intensity in every aspect of their identity and plot on both ends has returned in full force. – Weiss
Boston basketball heyday
Tatum has finally rounded out the Miami defense and seems very comfortable pulling doubles and finding shooters. The team moves the ball quickly and decisively, and the defensive pressure was just right without being overpowered. The individual defense on Butler and Adebayo was amazing, and Boston is mulling its spacing in transitioning away from their myriad deflections.
This is the pinnacle of Celtics basketball, and it looks like they can pull off the biggest comeback ever if they keep that focus. – Weiss
Celtics play hard
The Celtics had the intensity right from the start. On the first play, Smart bunted the ball away from Adebayo and scrambled downfield to take the ball. From there, Boston forced 15 more turnovers, including five more by Adebayo.
Boston’s team actually scored after opening the game with a run of 20-5, but held a comfortable margin the rest of the way. Tatum didn’t have a big scoring game but he controlled everything with his offensive reads. – king
Why did Heat struggle?
The Celtics don’t give Adebayo anything to do on offense, which is one way this series has changed. After attempting just seven shots with four turns in Game 4, Adebayo had six turnovers on Thursday. Boston collapses on him and strips him of the ball.
Adebayo doesn’t make his move fast enough or find an open teammate when the double team comes up; Partly because the heat doesn’t move without the ball. On a night when Vincent was out, and in a season in which Miami often used Adebayo to facilitate offense, the failure to get him going or find something to counter Boston’s change in defense was a recipe for disaster that unfolded. – Vardon
(Photo: Winslow Townson/USA Today)
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