I am up early so I’m sharing one, extended scattered thought in advance of tonight’s game 6.
I’ve thought all along that the Celtics are the better team in this series and for the majority of the minutes they have outplayed the Heat and lead the series points totals. Of course the Heat won the critical moments and were ahead at the end of the game in 3 of the contests so fundamental rules apply and they lead the series 3 games to 2.
I remain convinced that the Celtics are indeed the better, more talented team. But they have left themselves zero margin for error. They have to play perfectly or close to perfectly the next 2 games to survive and advance. In the first half of game 5 they looked like they knew that and as a result were playing way too tight. Kemba’s reminder to relax and play Celtics basketball came at exactly the right moment and seemed to key the turnaround.
We’re at the point in the series where two of the best coaches in the league have seen just about every card that the other can and will play. They know the moves, the counter moves, and the 3rd and 4th check downs from those moves. While the zone wrinkle seemed to throw the Celtics off their rhythm, they seem to have largely figured it out. They are getting great looks out of it and it boils down to making smart, crisp, fundamental passes and hitting the open looks. Likewise the Heat were initially thrown off by the Celtics “Best 5” lineup but started targeting Kemba and pounding the boards for second chances.
Strategy only gets you so far and can only put the players in position to win. It is up to the players on the court to execute. When that is the case, you want to have the team with the most talent on the floor.
Jayson Tatum has looked every bit the best player on the floor and Jaylen Brown isn’t far behind him. But both have had their struggles with consistency in this series. Kemba Walker hasn’t dominated this matchup the way I had hoped, but he’s the kind of guy that has a 30 point night (or even just an 18 point 4th quarter) in him at some point. We still haven’t seen peak Gordon Hayward. In fact, we still haven’t seen a good, solid, all around effort from tipoff to buzzer yet in this series. You have to think this team has at least one of those in them. Maybe even two.
With all that said, the Celtics still have to hope that the Heat don’t ...heat up (sorry) from 3 point range. In this league that can happen with any team, but in particular one with multiple players with long range expertise and a few that have been hot for much of the postseason. It can be as simple as that sometimes. As many coaches like to say, “It’s a make-miss league.”
The Celtics made too many mistakes early in this series and now need to focus on their strengths, minimize mistakes, and basically hope for Celtic luck.