Boston cruises over Miami to force Game 6 in NBA Eastern Conference finals

The Boston Celtics once again staved off elimination Thursday night after beating the Miami Heat 110-97 in Game 5. Boston never trailed, and put together a masterful game on both ends of the floor to force a Game 6. Boston had four players finish with at least 20 points, led by Derrick White’s 24 points, followed by Marcus Smart with 23 points. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown added 21 points each. After struggling to connect on 3s for most of this series, guys like Smart and White were pouring it on from downtown and Miami just couldn’t keep up.

The Heat had five scorers finish in double figures, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the Celtics shot incredibly well for most of the game. Turnovers were also a major killer for the Heat, who committed 16 on the night. Miami still leads the series 3-2, but after back-to-back dominant games from the Celtics, the pressure is on the Heat to close out this series at home Saturday night.

A complete game from the Celtics

This was without a doubt the best game Boston has played in this series. That’s not an incredibly difficult bar to clear considering up until two days ago they hadn’t won a game against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Still, Boston came out in attack mode from the jump, and never let up over the course of the game. It wasn’t just one aspect of the game they excelled at, it was everything. 

After shooting just 32.5% from 3-point territory through the first four games of this series, Boston shot 41% from downtown in Game 5. Derrick White and Marcus Smart did most of the heavy lifting in that category, combining to go 9 of 12 from beyond the arc. Jaylen Brown also had the ultimate bounce back shooting game from deep, connecting on 3 of 5 from long range, a much-needed boost after combining to go just 3 of 25 from 3-point range in the first four games of the series. That 3-point shooting was a result of great ball movement from Boston, especially in the first half where they were whipping the ball around the perimeter and finding the open guy off dribble penetration.

On defense, Boston was aggressive and forced Miami into 16 turnovers, which resulted in 27 points. They were fighting for every 50-50 ball, got out on shooters and made life difficult, primarily for Bam Adebayo who accounted for six of Miami’s 16 turnovers. The Celtics showed tonight why so many people picked them to win this series, but they’re still playing with their backs against the wall heading into Game 6.

Miami’s hot shooting cooling off

The reason Miami’s run to the Eastern Conference finals has been so surprising is because of how mediocre this team looked for most of the regular season. There’s a reason they finished as the eighth seed in the East, and lost their first play-in game to the Atlanta Hawks. During the regular season Miami was not a good 3-point shooting team. In fact, the Heat were amongst the worst in the league, ranking 27th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (34.4%). But the tide turned in the playoffs, and the Heat have been the second-best 3-point shooting team this postseason behind the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets. That hasn’t been the only reason that the Heat are still just one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals, but it surely has made a major difference.

In this series that has been especially true, with Miami shooting 42% from deep through the first four games of the East finals. However, in the last two games, the Heat have gone 17 of 55 from 3-point range, or 30%. That’s a significant drop off, and for a team that relies heavily upon that 3-ball falling, it’s been the difference in each of Miami’s last two losses. When guys like Max Strus, Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin aren’t connecting on 3s, it changes what the Heat can do on offense. It changes what looks Jimmy Butler is able to get, because if his teammates aren’t knocking down those shots then defenders are collapsing on him.

The Heat will need to hope that this mini dry spell wears off on Saturday, because we’ve seen in back-to-back games that if Miami isn’t knocking down 3s, then they’re getting blown out.

Boston on brink of NBA history

There’s still Saturday to take care of, but if the Celtics manage to comeback and win this series, they would be the first team in NBA history to win after being down 3-0. It would certainly make for a great story, and with the way Boston is playing it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. In the last two games the Celtics have played like a team that finally figured things out, and finally figured out how to beat this Heat team. Boston will need to do it twice more if they want to put their name in the history books, but their two wins are more indicative of the team that everyone picked to win this series before it started.