The Miami Heat are overachievers no matter what happens.
They are the No. 8 seed and just one victory against Boston from reaching the NBA Finals.
The Celtics are underachievers, one loss from a disappointing conclusion to the season but with time to change the narrative.
The Heat are inching closer to blowing a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics defeated the Heat 110-97 in Game 5 on Thursday, making it a 3-2 series and setting up Game 6 Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
“Who cares about mood?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have a gnarly group. So much of that is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals.”
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No. 2 seed Boston is trying to become the first team in 150 previous tries to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win an NBA series, and the Heat are trying to become the second No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals.
What does each team need to do to win the series?
Jimmy Butler needs to carry the Heat
It’s that simple. Jimmy Butler at his best helps Miami win the series. In the Heat’s three victories, he averaged 26 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.7 steals and shot 46% from the field. He is an offensive threat and defensive disruptor, and Miami has outscored Boston by 42 points with Butler in the game. In the two losses, he’s at 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game, and the Heat have been outscored by 44 points with Butler on the court.
It starts with Butler.
“If we can get Jimmy in his comfort zones and strength zones more consistently, he’ll be just fine,” Spoelstra said.
Bam Adebayo’s consistency key to success
After Butler, it’s on Bam Adebayo to produce. If Adebayo is close to 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block, that means the Heat have an aggressive and engaged big who can put pressure on Boston’s offense and defense. He hasn’t done that enough in the two losses − just 10 points on seven shots, five rebounds and no assists in Game 4 and only slightly better in Game 5.
How Heat’s role players factor in
The Heat are beat up, missing Tyler Herro (broken hand) for the entire series and Gabe Vincent (sprained left ankle) for Game 5. That puts a lot of pressure on Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Haywood Highsmith. Strus and Lowry, the starting guards in Game 5, combined for eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. Spoelstra will have lineup decisions regardless of whom is available, and he can’t take too much time figuring out who has it that night and who doesn’t.
Play hard, determined, with some heart
TNT’s Charles Barkley put it best about the Heat in this series: “They can’t beat the Celtics if the Celtics play well.” Problem is, for the Celtics, they don’t always play well, or with focus, determination and heart.
It shouldn’t require an elimination game (two against Philadelphia, two against Miami) to bring out the best in the Celtics, but here we are. If Boston brings that kind of mentality to Game 6, it can force a Game 7, which would make the Celtics just the fourth team in 151 3-0 series to push the series to the limit.
“It just says that our backs are against the wall, and we’re sticking together and we’re competing at a high level to give ourselves a chance,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylon Brown can’t falter under pressure
The Jays − Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown − are All-NBA selections. They haven’t always played like it against Miami. But like Butler and Adebayo for the Heat, Tatum and Brown key Boston’s success. They have struggled offensively in the losses, especially Brown who made just 20.3% of his shots, including 10% on 3-pointers, in the first three games.
If they channel the aggressiveness, smart decision-making and leadership they had in the two victories, they not only help themselves, but they help their teammates. Tatum’s 18 assists in the victories are a testament to better ball movement leading to better scoring chances.
Make shots, especially 3-pointers
Give Miami credit. Its defense has made Boston a disorganized mess offensively at times, including with its zone defense. Attacking with quick drives and passes opens up the Celtics’ offensive opportunities, especially at the 3-point line where Tatum, Brown, Derrick White, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams and Al Horford are a combined 33-for-74 (44.6%) on 3s in the two wins with White going 9-for-15 and Smart 7-for-15.
Boston has outscored the Heat 102-51 on 3-pointers in Games 4 and 5.
Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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