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Friday, May 26, 2023

Celtics Beat Heat in Game Five After Never Trailing

Four Celtics scored at least 21 points each as Boston never trailed en route to a 110-97 game five victory over the Miami Heat that did not feel nearly as close as the final score may suggest. Derrick White scored a game-high 24 points on 8-11 field goal shooting, Marcus Smart had 23 points plus five steals, and Jaylen Brown added 21 points, but the game's MVP was Jayson Tatum, who finished with 21 points, a game-high 11 assists, and eight rebounds. Tatum attacked the paint to score, and dished to open shooters when the defense collapsed on him. The Celtics' combination of a suffocating defense that scored 27 points off of turnovers with an offense that produced 16-39 shooting (.410) from three point range overwhelmed the Heat. 

Duncan Robinson scored 18 points in 28 minutes off of the bench to lead a Heat offense that shot well (.513 field goal percentage) but squandered too many possessions and only attempted 10 free throws. Bam Adebayo added 16 points but he committed a game-high six turnovers as the Celtics' size and athleticism clearly affected him. Jimmy Butler had an efficient game--14 points on 5-10 field goal shooting, five rebounds, five assists, two turnovers--but the Heat need for him to more aggressively seek out shot opportunities; the Heat do not have enough talent to beat an elite team without their best player scoring at least 20-25 points or having a significant impact on the game in some other way. 

The Celtics raced to an 18-5 lead by the 6:01 mark of the first quarter, and they led by double digits the rest of the way, which is unusual in a league in which almost every team makes a run. By the end of the first quarter, the Celtics were up 35-20 as Tatum (12) and White (11) combined to score more points than the Heat's entire team. The Celtics committed no turnovers, and they converted six Heat turnovers into 10 points.

The Heat played better in the second quarter, but still lost the stanza 26-24 to trail 61-44 at halftime. The Celtics already had four double figure scorers, but Robinson (10 points) was the Heat's only double figure scorer. Butler had eight points on 2-7 field goal shooting, and both teams know that the Heat are not going to win--let alone come back from a 17 point deficit--with Butler not aggressively looking for his shot.

The third quarter featured spectacular shooting--.765 by Miami, .667 by Boston--but the Celtics outscored the Heat 29-28 to push their lead to 90-72. In the fourth quarter, the Heat kept their powder dry to get ready for game six, as two starters did not play at all (Bam Adebayo and Max Strus) while Butler logged two scoreless minutes. The Celtics played 11 different players in the final stanza, but Tatum and Brown did not sit for good until the 3:20 mark, when the Celtics were ahead 107-88.

What has changed since Miami took a 3-0 lead, and can Boston keep winning? TNT's Charles Barkley made an excellent point after the game: if both teams play their best in the same game then the Celtics will win. The Heat played better than the Celtics in the first three games of the series, but in the last two games the Celtics have hit their stride and the Heat have not been able to keep pace. Three point shooting is a high variance enterprise for any player or team, but the Celtics' smothering defense is sustainable if the team commits to putting forth effort at that end of the court--and that defense leads to easy scoring opportunities in transition. When the Celtics wreak havoc defensively the Heat not only struggle to score, but they often lack the necessary time and floor balance to set up their halfcourt defense.

Saying that game six in Miami is equivalent to a game seven scenario for the Heat is a cliche, but many cliches contain at least a grain of truth. The Heat are capable of winning game six at home to close out this series, but if the Heat fail to do that then it is difficult to picture the Heat beating the Celtics in game seven in Boston.

I picked the Celtics to win this series in part because I expected the Celtics to exploit the Heat's mediocre offense and lack of size, and those two Heat weaknesses/Celtic strengths have been very evident in games four and five after not being consistent themes in the first three games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:31 AM



At Friday, May 26, 2023 2:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to everything you noted, I think the absence of Gabe Vincent really hurt Miami tonight. They are already thin in the backcourt with Oladipo and Herro out, and at this point in his career Lowry is much better suited to being a backup than a starter.

Boston's shooters will probably not stay as hot in Game 6 but as you noted, Miami better show up because coming into Boston for a Game 7 may be too tall an order for an injury-depleted team that would be at a talent deficit even if they were healthy.

At Friday, May 26, 2023 9:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Heat are notable as a no-excuse team that has done well despite suffering injuries to Herro, Oladipo, and--as you mentioned--Vincent.

I agree that Vincent's absence affected the Heat, but I doubt that even if he had played the outcome of game five would have been different--the Celtics played too well for the Heat to handle.

At Friday, May 26, 2023 12:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that you mention it, Butler's Heat have had almost amazingly bad luck with PG injuries.

2020 Dragic gets hurt right as the Finals are starting.

2022 Lowry's playing hurt and Herro misses half the Boston series.

2023 Herro's out and now Vincent is too.

Like, there may be an alternate timeline somewhere where Butler's on his way to a third ring in four years, and the only difference is that his little white guys don't explode in May every time.


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