BOSTON — From series sweeps to full-blown series, the Boston Celtics are transforming the Eastern Conference Finals.
They’re still in the big hole, but another easy 110-97 victory in Game 5 against the Miami Heat on Thursday saw four of their starters score at least 20 points, making them the first team of the year. 2 more wins to go. It is the first time in NBA history that the series has been won from a 3-0 deficit.
Game 6 will take place Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Miami. The Celtics have won their last two games by 30 points combined. Boston was never behind on Thursday, leading by up to 24 points and trailing by 15 points at the end of the first quarter.
“This means we’re hitting a wall and coming together and fighting at a high level to get our chances,” Boston manager Joe Mazura said.
The Celtics backcourt of Derrick White and Marcus Smart effortlessly presented the best game of the series. They took advantage of the absence of Heat starting guard Gabe Vincent (left ankle sprain) at the expense of Max Strass and Vincent’s understudy Kyle Lowry.
White started the conference finals opener as a backup, making six 3-points for 24 points and two steals. Smart added 23 points (4 3-3) and 5 steals.
“He’s been playing with his defensive versatility and has done a great job paying attention to detail in personnel trends,” Mazura said of White. And of Smart, he said: “He’s just an emotional key to us. When he’s anchored and plays at different paces on both sides of the ball, it kind of gives us an identity and a life.”
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Jayson Tatum was nearly a triple-double (21 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, Jaylen Brown added 21 points). Tatum scored 12 points in the first inning to help Boston improve, including a dunk with 3 minutes and 18 seconds remaining that triggered Miami’s second timeout of the game. The Celtics were already ahead by 15 points at that point, and the closest they got to the game was 11 points in the second quarter.
Neither Bam Adebayo (16 points, eight rebounds) nor Jimmy Butler (14 points) played in the close fourth quarter. Miami used Heywood Highsmith for the first time in the series, and he scored 15 points off the bench, as did Caleb Martin (14) and Duncan Robinson (18).
Lowry and Strath gave little to the Heat (8 points combined on 3-of-10 shooting). Miami again messed up with turnovers (16 of 27 for the Celtics), allowing 17 second-chance points. The Celtics continued another trend of recent times, once again showing off their 3-point shots.
“Their activity levels have been up in the last two games, and that’s to be expected in a competitive playoff series,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “And we’ve been playing in the crowd for a good amount of time. If you read the game, read the press, play right, you might get some good things out of it.
“But we have to give them credit for their work,” Spoelstra continued. “They kept us stuck in the paint with quick hands, stripping, etc. We have to step it up. And you have to make the right play in the right space.”
One more win and the series will return to Boston for Monday’s improbable Game 7. There’s a lot more history at stake than just an NBA Finals spot with the Denver Nuggets.
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As we all know, none of the 150 teams that went 3-0 in the series have come from behind and won. Only three teams made it through to Game 7. Until recently, the Celtics were on the brink of a sweeping victory, raising fair questions about Mazura’s future in Boston and the future of the current roster.
“Yeah, obviously Game 3 was a tough game. I was confident,” White said. “We’ve been doing that for the last two games.”
The Heat, meanwhile, are (and still are) chasing the No. 8 seed, the second in history and the first to reach the Finals since 1999. They’re 2-0 in their first two games, and they’re not going to. Let’s see what 0-3 looks like.
“The last two games are not what we are,” Butler said. “It just happened. We need to play, as I always say, it’s going to put a smile on everyone’s face and we’re going to be very, very, very consistent, knowing that we’re going to win the next game.”
Celtics look like themselves
It took the Celtics until halftime of Game 4 to figure out what was going on, but they put up a great game in Game 5, and the prospect of a 0-3 comeback became surprisingly real.
Boston’s contested shooting was unsustainably good, but their identity and attention to detail and intensity in every aspect of the plan on both ends came back in full force. — Weiss
peak boston basketball
Tatum finally cracks Miami’s defense and looks very comfortable pulling doubles and finding shooters. The team moves the ball with speed and determination, and defensive pressure is just right without overdoing it. The individual defenses of Butler and Adebayo are incredible, and Boston have space in transition from countless deflections.
This is the peak of basketball for the Celtics, and it looks like they could pull off the biggest comeback of all time just by maintaining this focus. — Weiss
Celtics play with intensity
The Celtics had momentum early on. On the first play, Smart knocked the ball away from Adebayo before diving onto the court and stealing it. From there, Boston was forced to make 15 more turnovers, including five more for Adebayo.
In fact, Boston got ahead with a 20-5 run right after the game started, but kept a good margin the rest. Tatum didn’t have a big scoring game, but he controlled everything with an offensive read. — king
Why the Heat struggled
The Celtics haven’t let Adebayo do anything offensively, but that’s one factor that changed the series. After just seven shots and four turnovers in Game 4, Adebayo had six turnovers on Thursday. Boston collapses on top of him and takes the ball from him.
Adebayo was unable to move fast enough and find an open teammate when the double team arrived. One reason is that the Heat don’t move much without the ball. On the night Vincent was absent, and on a season when Miami used Adebayo frequently to fuel their offense, the failure to move Adebayo or find anything to counter Boston’s defensive shifts. became the cause of the catastrophe. — Verdon
(Photo: Winslow Townson/USA Today)