The Boston Celtics once again averted elimination from the NBA playoffs, convincingly beating the Miami Heat in Game 5 110-97. The possibility of writing history is not only given in theory.
Because: This series takes on a dynamic that Miami cannot please. The findings of game 5.
Celtics: The defense is back
Let’s be honest, before this game nobody could say exactly which Celtics they would get that night. They were neither particularly strong at home recently, nor constant. So it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Miami bagged that series in Game 5.
Instead, the “good” Celtics performed. Those Celtics who were clearly the best defensive team in the NBA in calendar year 2022. And that’s how it should be with this staff. In the first quarter, the hosts laid the foundation for what was ultimately a clear success. Boston was defensively focused, aggressive on man. The result was long possession times for the Heat, who often had to take heavy shots late in the shot clock or threw the ball away entirely.
Marcus Smart in particular was in charge here – right from the first play.He showed what is possibly his best game of the playoffs. The four threes, more on that later, were a nice bonus, but Smart put Kyle Lowry under massive pressure and forced him to make mistakes. And when Boston forces mistakes, they’re hard to beat.
Celtics vs. Heat: The series at a glance
|1||May 18th||2.30 a.m||Boston Celtics||Miami Heat||116:123|
|2||May 20th||2.30 a.m||Boston Celtics||Miami Heat||105:111|
|3||May 22||2.30 a.m||Miami Heat||Boston Celtics||128:102|
|4||May 24th||2.30 a.m||Miami Heat||Boston Celtics||99:116|
|5||May 26||2.30 a.m||Boston Celtics||Miami Heat||110:97|
|6||28th of May||2.30 a.m||Miami Heat||Boston Celtics|
|7*||30th May||2.30 a.m||Boston Celtics||Miami Heat|
Although the Celtics only recorded 5 fast break points in the first quarter, the ball losses were fodder for Boston, who met a disorderly heat defense and played open threes in rows. In the first quarter alone there were four corner threes, which is always a sign of good ball movement. So Smart also netted twice from the corner in the first twelve minutes – these are the attempts he should take.
But back to the defense: Boston approved more than 51 percent from the field, but managed to limit Miami’s stars. The Heat especially tried to involve Bam Adebayo early on, but the center had a lot of trouble in the zone. Al Horford did well in one-on-ones, with help always there when needed.
“We didn’t get going at all,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “We couldn’t get the ball to go where we wanted it to play our offense.” That hits the nail on the head and was mainly thanks to the Celtics defense, which hasn’t been as dominant as this evening for a long time.
Last year, the Celtics were among the best teams when it came to pushing turnover. In 2022/23 only four teams were worse. Another sign that Boston was just too lax defensively in the regular season, which also ran like a red thread through the postseason. In Game 5, on the other hand, there were a whopping 13 steals, from which Boston scored 27 points.
Celtics: Jayson Tatum takes the next step
2 steals also went to Tatum, who acted very solidly, especially in his few moments against Jimmy Butler. In general, it was a very well-rounded game by Tatum, who was the only starter from Downtown who had no rhythm (1/6), but he didn’t force anything. Instead, he showed the old recipe from Game 7 against the Sixers in the first quarter when Adebayo went on the bench.
Miami had no answers to the high pick ‘n’ roll with Tatum with Cody Zeller on the five, the Celtics star basically played the big off the field and shortened the already short heat rotation again. Tatum attacked the basket, got Miami spinning and made numerous open three-pointers possible for the Celtics. That’s the only way it works. Boston can be a great shooting team, but it requires pressure on the defense first. That wasn’t always the case, especially in the first three and a half games.
But one question remains unanswered: Can Boston also deliver in crunch time? That wasn’t necessary in the last two games, but there were also phases in game 5 in which Boston wobbled slightly, but then hit a three-pointer in time. Also because Tatum acted unselfishly and played two 7 assists in halftime alone. That’s exactly what Boston needs. We all know Tatum can score, and score a lot. But if he’s constantly getting his teammates involved and improving, that’s the next step in his development and what he lacked a year ago in the Finals series against Golden State.
Heat: Jimmy Butler seems drained
This is also the key to the series. If Tatum actually plays better than Butler, the Celtics have a good chance of making it into the finals for the second time in a row. Very little came from the heat star again: ten shot attempts in 33 minutes (plus a plus minus of -24, no one in the team was worse) will not be enough for Miami.
Butler didn’t look particularly lively, taking just four throws (plus six free throws) in the zone and being repeatedly stopped on his drives by Tatum. Only against White did Butler succeed here and there when he could throw over him, but that was about it. The Celtics will be able to live with this type of shotmaking, however, because Butler hardly gives his teammates any advantages.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old was nonetheless optimistic (“We can and will win the series”) and the past has shown him to excel in must-win games. Game 5 wasn’t one, but game 6 will be. But it is also a fact that Butler has not been as dominant as he was against the Bucks since his ankle injury at the start of the Knicks series.
Only once did Butler hit at least half of his shots, for the third time the forward stayed under 20 points, with his 14 points being a postseason low.
Heat: Gabe Vincent’s absence was a killer
Even worse for Miami was the absence of Gabe Vincent, who injured his ankle in Game 4 and is irreplaceable. His chain dog defense paired with the last so hot shooting was missing at every nook and corner that night. It turned out that Kyle Lowry at 37 years old is hardly a factor against an athletic team. Lowry was mostly very hesitant.
After desperately looking for fouls under the basket several times in Game 4, the Vincent substitute didn’t even try to tear holes with drives in Boston. That was a big problem for Miami as the offense was so much too static. Lowry was the Heat’s biggest weakness and Boston exploited that mercilessly with ball pressure and four steals against the former Raptors guard.
5 points (2/6) in 30 minutes is very little, and Vincent’s absence has further effects on the rotation. Another guard is missing – the further injured Tyler Herro could have helped – so Butler also had to play point guard.
Heat: Is a former Crailsheimer the joker?
But you can also see the positive side: the Vincent injury flushed Haywood Highsmith, who was still under contract in the BBL at Crailsheim two years ago, into the rotation – and the forward ultimately played a whopping 36 minutes as a reserve player. Now you can’t expect 15 points and 3/4 from Downtown in every game, but the 26-year-old gives Spoelstra another option.
Highsmith is a good Switch defender, has quick hands and despite only 1.96 meters, as a small center, can scrub a few minutes here and there. For example, in game 6 you could replace the Zeller minutes, which the Celtics have now decoded.
Still, Highsmith’s performance in Boston shouldn’t be overrated. The Celtics will be able to live with it if the forward continues to take threes (career average: 33 percent). Rather, his 36 minutes are also a sign that Miami is slowly but surely running out of players. That’s also why it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Boston can actually force a seventh game in the TD Garden.