It seemed that the Celtics had everything figured out after a convincing Game 3 win over the Heat. But they came out flat and seemed a step slow for most of Game 4, putting themselves into a 1-3 hole. The Celtics have proved that when they play together and when they give a consistent effort, they are more than capable of beating the Heat. However, it’s hard to tell if they will come out with a Game 3 effort or a Game 4 lack of effort in Game 5. Every game has been close and every game could have gone the other way with a little more focus and a little more consistent effort from the Celtics.
It goes without saying that the Celtics’ backs are against the wall. Teams with a 3-1 lead in a series win the series 94.9% of the time (244-13). In the Conference Finals, teams that take a 3-1 lead win 92.6% of the time (50-4). The Heat are the first team to take a 3-1 lead in the Conference Finals since the Cavs vs the Celtics in 2017.
The Celtics have come back from 1-3 deficits twice. They did it in 1981 on the way to Larry Bird’s first championship. They also did it in 1968 vs the 76ers. A little more recent, the Denver Nuggets came back from 1-3 deficits twice in these playoffs in the Bubble. They did it in the first round vs the Jazz and again in the 2nd round against the Clippers. In both of those series, the Nuggets definitely out-worked their opponents.
The series is the Celtics’ to win or to lose. The Celtics have the talent and they have the coaching. They had a top 5 offense and a top 5 defense in the regular season and can play at a high level on both ends of the court. The problem for them has been effort and focus. The Heat have shown more effort and more focus in all but Game 3 and the Celtics have not played up to their level in spite of the fact that they are very capable of it.
The Celtics are pretty much healthy other than Romeo Langford, who underwent surgery on his injured wrist and will be out for the rest of the post season. For the Heat, Gabe Vincent is questionable with knee soreness and Chris Silva is out with a pelvis injury. Andre Iguodala has been struggling with back spasms but is expected to play. Bam Adebayo injured his wrist in Game 4 but stayed in the game and after participating in Thursday’s practice, is expected to play in this game as well.
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Probable Heat Starters
Derrick Jones, Jr
Chris Silva (pelvis) out
Gabe Vincent (knee) questionable
Andre Iguodala (back) probable
Bam Adebayo (wrist) probable
Daniel Theis vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo has been the Heat’s most consistent player in the series so far. In Game 1, Adebayo had a key block to preserve the win for the Heat. In Game 2, he came up big in the second half, scoring more field goals in the 3rd quarter than the entire Celtics team. In Game 3, he finished with 27 points on 71% shooting to go with 16 rebounds and 1 assist. In Game 4, he finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds 4 assists and 2 steals. He is not a threat from the perimeter so the Celtics have to try to keep him out of the paint and away from the basket. Adebayo has been a thorn in the Celtics’ sides and the Celtics need to somehow limit him, whether it is with Theis, Grant Williams, Robert Williams, or Enes Kanter.
Marcus Smart vs Goran Dragic
Dragic is the main cog in the Heat’s offense and he pretty much had his way in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3, Brad Stevens moved Marcus Smart to be the primary defender for Dragic, who gave the Celtics problems in both of the first two games, averaging 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He shot 53% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc in Game 2. Against Smart in Game 3, he scored just 11 points on 2-10 shooting. He also had 5 turnovers. In Game 4, he was once again a force for the Heat with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Slowing Dragic is definitely key for the Celtics.
Jaylen Brown vs Jimmy Butler
Jaylen Brown is a key to the Celtics playing well. In games that Brown is aggressive and scores 25 points or more, the Celtics are 16-1. In Game 3, Brown was definitely aggressive and consistently drove to the hoop and was very aggressive on defense. He finished the game with a team high 26 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Butler finished Game 4 with 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists. In Game 4, Brown had 21 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. He shot well but wasn’t really aggressive early in the game, scoring only 4 field goals in the first half. The Celtics need aggressive Jaylen on both ends of the court for Game 5 if they expect to win.
Gordon Hayward vs Tyler Herro
Assuming that Hayward once again comes off the bench this is a matchup of key reserves that play starters minutes. Hayward had 6 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in Game 3 and 14 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in Game 5. Herro had 22 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists on 44% shooting and killed the Celtics all by himself in Game 5 with 37 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot 66.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc and many of his shots were wide open. Hayward gives the second unit stability that they don’t have otherwise and Herro comes in to give the Heat instant offense. Hayward needs to play well once again and the Celtics have to keep Herro from having another big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense- Defense is the biggest key to winning playoff games. The Celtics have figured out the Heat’s zone defense and in Game 3, they also clamped down with aggressive defense, holding the Heat to 38.8% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics let up a little on defense in Game 4, allowing the Heat to shoot 42.9% from the field. The Celtics have to come out with a lock down defensive mindset in this game and keep the pressure on the Heat for 48 minutes of aggressive defense.
Rebound - In Game 1, Miami out rebounded the Celtics 41-37. In game 2 the Celtics out rebounded the Heat 41-38 but in the 4th quarter, there were a couple of times that 3 or 4 Celtics stood around watching the Heat swoop in for the rebound. Miami had 8 offensive rebounds in the second half, after grabbing just 3 in the first half. In Game 3, the Celtics out rebounded the Heat 50-42 and they were aggressive boxing out and going after rebounds the entire game. In Game 4, the Heat out rebounded the Celtics 40-34 and at times had 2 or 3 offensive rebounds on one possession. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics showed both in Game 3 and need that same effort and hustle in this game if they want to get a win.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics had 20 turnovers in Game 2 and cleaned that up with only 10 in Game 3. Then in Game 4 they turned the ball over 19 times to just 8 turnovers for the Heat. The Celtics lost focus and made bad passes and careless passes and that was a big difference in the game. The Celtics took an 85-84 lead in the third quarter and then turned the ball over on 3 of the next 4 possessions. They have to stay focused throughout the game and take better care of the ball.
Play Hard 48 Minutes- The Celtics played hard for 3 quarters and were up 12 points going into the 4th quarter of Game 1. They were up 17 points in the first half of Game 2. Then, they got complacent and let their foot off the gas and allowed the Heat to be the more aggressive team and to play harder in the second half of both games. The Celtics kept that same aggressive mindset throughout Game 3 and came away with the win. In Game 4, they came in flat and never seemed to give that kind of effort throughout the game. They need to play hard throughout the game with no let up. If they show any complacency at all, the Heat will take advantage and pull ahead.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics need to keep the ball moving and play team ball. The Celtics have played as a team in the first half of Games 1 and 2 and built leads that way. In the second half of both games, they went away from playing as a team and there was way too much of hero ball and isolation play. Hero ball rarely ends well as they become predictable and are much easier to defend. They have to make the extra pass and find the open man and the best shot and play as a team on every possession and not allow the Heat’s defense to take them away from that. They also have to be careful in making those passes and not turn the ball over.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team from start to finish. They have to be more aggressive in getting into the paint and going to the basket. They can’t settle for outside jumpers. The Celtics outscored the Heat 60-36 in the paint in Game 3 and that was a huge part of getting the win. They have to once again be aggressive in diving for loose balls and in defending every possession and in rebounding and especially in driving to the basket.
Coaching - Erik Spoelstra seems to have the edge in this game. Brad Stevens got the better of Spoelstra with his adjustments in Game 3 but in Games 1, 2 and 4, Spoelstra seems to been able to motivate his team much better than Brad has the Celtics. Hopefully Brad has a few more tricks up his sleeve to throw Spoelstra and the Heat off their game in this one.
Effort and Hustle - The Heat have shown more effort and hustle in Games 1, 2 and 4 than the Celtics. The only game that the Celtics have outworked the Heat was Game 3 and they got the win in that one. The Celtics have the talent to win but they have to put in the effort and out-work the Heat for 48 minutes if they want to beat them. We know that the Heat are willing to put in the work but will the Celtics? There is no home crowd to cheer them on and motivate them. It has to come from the heart and they have to want it more.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. While there isn’t really a home court advantage in the bubble, some refs may simulate one with their calls. Some just make bad, head scratching calls as we have seen in several of the games in the first 2 rounds. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls take away their focus. The officiating hasn’t been terrible so far, even with Foster and Brothers. Hopefully that trend will continue in this game.
The 3 refs for this game are like most refs and can be good or bad on any given night, but for the most part, they haven’t been particularly bad. John Goble called Game 3 vs Philadelphia and Games 1 and 6 vs Toronto. Both teams are 5-5 in their last 10 games with Goble. Josh Tiven called Game 3 vs Toronto. Both teams are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Tiven. Kevin Scott called Game 4 vs Toronto. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 with Scott while Miami is 6-4 in their last 10.