The Celtics faced elimination on Friday in Game 5. They came out tight and finished the first half behind the Heat by 7 points. It didn’t look all that promising until Kemba urged his teammates at half time to play loose and have fun. Brad Stevens reminded them of the core values of their identity: Defensive communication, close out with purpose, and attack early on offense.
The game was a tale of two halves. The Celtics were tight to begin the game. They were 1-for-12 from the floor with 8 of those shots coming from beyond the arc. They weren’t attacking the basket and were outscored 12-2 in the paint. They shot just 25% in the first quarter. Their defense was also suspect as they allowed the Heat to shoot 41% from the field.
The Celtics came out loose in the third quarter and were aggressive on both ends of the court. Their defense tightened up and led to better offense and they outscored the Heat 70-50 in the second half. The Heat shot just 3-18 from beyond the arc in the second half.
The Celtics need to use that second half of Game 5 as a template for how they must play in Game 6. The Heat will be ready for them and Erik Spoelstra will likely make some adjustments but if the Celtics come out playing like they did after halftime in Game 5, they will be tough to beat. They must be aggressive and feed off each other’s energy. They have to make defense a priority and let that feed the offense. And they have to attack the basket and get into their offense quickly.
Teams that are up 3-1 in a series win the series 94.9% of the time. Yet, in these playoffs, the Denver Nuggets have done that not once, but twice. They came back from 1-3 vs the Nuggets in the first round and again against the Clippers in the second round. This could point to the fact that in the Bubble, without travel and without home crowds, coming back from being down 3-1 might not be quite as daunting as it is under normal circumstances. That should give the Celtics additional motivation.
Bam Adebayo injured his wrist in Game 4 but he played 39 minutes in Game 5 and said that his wrist was just fine, even though he had a sub-par performance in that game. He is expected to play in this game also. Gabe Vincent is questionable with knee soreness and Chris Silva is out with a pelvis injury. Andre Iguodala has had some problems with back spasms but is also expected to play. Only Romeo Langford (wrist) is out for the Celtics.
Probable Celtics Starters
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 was the Heat’s best player in the first four games. He averaged 21.5 points on 60% shooting along with 11 rebounds in those 4 games. In Game 5, the Celtics’ centers dominated on both ends of the court and held Adebayo to 13 points and 8 rebounds. On the other hand, Daniel Theis had 15 points and 13 rebounds, playing all but 39 seconds of the second half. Enes Kanter also played well, scoring 8 straight points in 9 minutes in the second quarter. The Celtics will need to get strong play from their centers once again in this game and at the same time they need to limit Adebayo once again.
Marcus Smart vs Goran Dragic
In the first two games, Dragic averaged 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while shooting 53% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart Game 3, he scored just 11 points on 2-10 shooting. He also had 5 turnovers. In Games 4 and 5, Dragic once again averaged 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. In game 5, Marcus went from looking to score to doing the things that win the game and finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals. He needs that mindset once again in this game.
Jaylen Brown vs Jimmy Butler
aylen Brown is a key to the Celtics playing well. In games that Brown is aggressive and scores 25 points or more, the Celtics are 17-1. 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. In Game 5, Brown was once again key to that second half run and was aggressive on both ends of the court. He finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists. Butler finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. The Celtics need aggressive Jaylen on both ends of the court for Game 6.
Gordon Hayward vs Tyler Herro
In Game 4, Herro killed the Celtics with 37 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot 66.7% from the field. He came back to earth in Game 5 with 14 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist as the Celtics covered him much better. Hayward gives the second unit stability that they don’t have otherwise but he hasn’t had a big game since returning to the team. He finished Game 5 with 10 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Getting a big game from Hayward would be nice and limiting Herro once again is important to get the win in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense- Defense is the biggest key to winning playoff games. Defending the Heat’s perimeter shooting is a big part of beating them. They are one of the top 3 point shooting teams and that is a big part of their offense. The Celtics held them to just 19.4% from beyond the arc in Game 5 and they must continue to tightly guard the perimeter in this game if they hope to win. When Miami shoots less than 31% from beyond the arc, they are 2-17 but when they shoot better than 31% on threes, they are 53-15. Perimeter defense and aggressive, lock down defense in general are the biggest keys to winning this game.
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. In Game 5, the Celtics once again out rebounded the Heat 50-38. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics showed both in Games 3 and 5 and they need that same effort and hustle in this game if they want to get a win.
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 they outscored them 56-48 in the paint in Game 5. The Celtics must be aggressive in getting to the basket and either scoring or drawing a foul. If they want to win this game, 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.
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. In Game 5, they once again had just 11 turnovers to 12 for the Heat. In their losses, the Celtics have lost focus and made bad passes and careless passes and that has been a big difference. The Celtics have to stay focused throughout the game and take care of the ball and limit their turnovers.
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. In Game 5, they came out flat but in the second half, they played their best basketball of these playoffs. They need to play hard throughout Game 6 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. When the Celtics play as a team, communicate on defense, close out with purpose, and and attack early on defense, they are very hard to beat. 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. We finally saw Celtics basketball in the second half of Game 5 and hopefully they remember that and repeat it in this game.
Coaching - This has been a coaching duel between two top coaches. Erik Spoelstra makes a move and Brad Stevens counters. Spoelstra had some success with zone defense and Stevens figured a way to beat it. Stevens has gone small at times. Spoelstra has tried different rotations including using the rarely used Solomon Hill. He went 7 deep in Game 4 and then 10 deep in Game 5. I expect Spoelstra to make adjustments for this game and hopefully Brad is up to matching them.
Effort and Hustle - The Heat have shown more effort and hustle in Games 1, 2 and 4 than the Celtics. The Celtics outworked the Heat in Game 3 and the second half of Game 5. 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. It’s win or go home and the Celtics need to leave it all on the court as they try to keep their season alive for another game.
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. Hopefully that trend will continue in this game.
Marc Davis is the lead referee in this game and in an LA Times survey in 2016, players and coaches voted him one of the worst referees in the league so he may very well be an X-factor. Celtics fans may remember him as the ref that Rajon Rondo threw the ball at to get ejected. Here are a couple of quotes from the article about Davis:
“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”Kane Fitzgerald is quick to call technicals and so the Celtics need to be careful about challenging calls. He is the only ref to ever eject LeBron James. But as with most refs they can be good in some games and bad in others.