The Eastern Conference Finals once again shifts to Miami for Game #5 between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. So far in the series, these two teams have alternated wins. The Heat won Game 1 118-107. The Celtics won Game 2 127-102. The Heat won Game 3 109-103. And the Celtics won Game 4 102-82.
Both teams have won one game at home and one game on the road. The Celtics will need to win one more game on the road if they are to win the series as it is now a 3 game series with the Heat holding home court advantage. For some reason each of these teams has won a game convincingly and then gone on to lose the next game.
Interestingly, this series has followed the same pattern as the Bucks series with the Celtics losing Games 1 and 3 and winning Games 2 and 4 with the Celtics and Bucks alternating wins. That series went to 7 games and hopefully the Celtics can break that pattern in this series as a game 7 would be in Miami and not in Boston, as it was against the Bucks. The Celtics are 5-2 on the road in these playoffs, including a win in Game 2 in Miami.
Game 4 was pivotal because if the Heat had won that game, they would have gone up 3-1 in the series and teams that are up 3-1 in series win the series 95.4% of the time. Game 5 now becomes pivotal as well because in series tied at 2 games each, the team that wins Game 5 goes on to win the series 82.8% of the time. This is especially true for teams that are on the road for Game 5.
Both teams have dealt with injuries in this series. Robert Williams has been questionable going into each game in this series so far and he remains questionable going into this game due to swelling and soreness in his left knee. He missed Game 3 and returned for Game 4 and played 18 minutes. He was limping a bit in the 3rd quarter of that game and so his status for this game is once again up in the air. I’m thinking positive and including him in the starting lineup as the Celtics really need him. If he can’t play, Grant Williams should get the start in his place.
Marcus Smart sprained his ankle in Game 3. His ankle turned 90 degrees and then Kyle Lowry landed on it. He left the game but returned shortly afterwards to play the rest of the game but his ankle was too swollen and sore for him to play in Game 4. He is listed as questionable for this game and his status will be a game time decision. Once again, I’m thinking positive thoughts and have included him in the starting lineup. If he can’t go, Derrick White should get the start. Sam Hauser remains out with a shoulder injury.
The Heat have listed Max Strus and Gabe Vincent as questionable with hamstring injuries for every game this series and neither has missed any games and neither has shown any sign of having an injury. PJ Tucker is on the injury list with a knee injury. He played in Game 4 and didn’t seem to be hampered by an injury and so should play in this game also.
Jimmy Butler sat out the second half of Game 3 with swelling in his knee but played in Game 4. Although he struggled in the game, he said that the knee is fine and so I expect him to also play in this game. Kyle Lowry missed Games 1 and 2 with a hamstring injury. He played in Games 3 and 4 but once again is on the injury list as questionable.
If Lowry can’t play, I would expect Gabe Vincent to start as he did in the first two games. But, I expect he will also be fine to play. Tyler Herro was questionable going into Game 4 after suffering a groin injury in Game 3. He missed Game 4 and is once again questionable for this game. If he can’t play, Victor Oladipo and Duncan Robinson should see increased minutes once again.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Marcus Smart (ankle) questionable
Robert Williams III (knee) questionable
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
Kyle Lowry (hamstring) questionable
Gabe Vincent (hamstring) questionable
Max Strus (hamstring) questionable
Tyler Herro (groin) questionable
PJ Tucker (knee) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
This is definitely the key matchup for this game. After averaging 35 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in the first two games, he averaged 7 points, 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1 steal in Games 3 and 4. It may be the knee injury that limited him in the last two games but I expect him to be ready to come out and play hard in this game. Jayson Tatum had just 10 points in Game 3 and bounced back to pour in 31 points in Game 4. He struggled shooting from the perimeter in both games but he made it a point to be aggressive and drive into the paint in Game 4 and was able to score inside and get to the line. He needs to keep that mindset in this game as well.
Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo averaged 8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the first two games, he came out in Game 3 very aggressive and put up 31 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 1 block with Robert Williams out. Robert returned for Game 4 and Bam went back to 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Robert, in the meantime, had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks and made a world of difference on defense. Hopefully Robert can play again in this game as the Celtics need him.
Derrick White vs Victor Oladipo
Oladipo was given more playing time in Game 4 with Tyler Herro sitting out with the groin injury. He made good use of his minutes with 23 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists. Derrick White got the start for Marcus Smart in Game 4 and put up 13 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. The Celtics need White to once again be aggressive as he was in Game 4, whether he starts once again or comes off the bench.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs and even more especially in this series. Both of these teams play tough physical defense. The Celtics need to play team defense and they have to make defense a priority. They have to show urgency and aggressiveness on defense and not let up on the defensive end even a little.
Rebound - As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to grab rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of the game as well. The Celtics hustled and put out a lot of effort for the entire Game 4 and they out rebounded the Heat 60-39. They have to put out that kind of effort in this game also and not let up because they won the last game.
Urgency and Effort - These are the keys to winning this game. If they play with urgency and put out the extra effort, they have a good chance of winning the game. The Heat win their games by playing harder than their opponents more than by having more talent. The Celtics have to be the team that plays harder and is more aggressive and plays with more urgency. The Celtics can’t let down as they have after every win in the last 2 series. They have to play like it is game 7 and play like it’s a must win game.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics had 16 turnovers in their Game 1 loss and they turned the ball over 24 times for 33 Heat points in their loss in Game 3. In their two wins, they limited their turnovers to just 9 in each game. The Celtics must limit their turnovers in this game. They have to make crisp passes and be aware of the defenders who are very good at getting into the passing lanes. They have to be more careful when handling the ball and not dribble into a crowd and not get sloppy with the ball.
Do What Works - The Celtics know what works for them. They did it in Game 2 and they did it in Game 4. They went away from it in games 1 and 3. They need to be aggressive and play with urgency. They need to move the ball and limit hero ball. They need to limit turnovers. They need to crash the boards and rebound with extra effort. They need to trust teammates and work the ball around to get the best shots. And they need to play team defense and not take any possessions off. They also need to come out strong and play aggressively and with urgency right from the start and play that way right up until the final buzzer with no let up.
Injuries - As I write this, there are several players who are questionable on both teams. I’m expecting all of the players who are questionable on the Heat to play, with possibly the exception of Tyler Herro. Lowry and Butler may be playing at less than 100%. I believe that if at all possible, Marcus Smart will want to play, but I also saw his ankle turn at a 90 degree angle and it may not be possible for him to play on it. Also, Robert Williams was limping some in the 3rd quarter of Game 4 and his knee may swell once again before this game. The Celtics need both Smart and Robert, especially Robert. Hopefully they can play.
Coaching - As the series goes on, coaching becomes more and more of an X-Factor with each coach making adjustments to counter problems from the last game. So far, the teams have alternated wins and losses and so I expect Spoelstra to make some adjustments since his team lost on Monday. Hopefully Ime can counter and pull out a second straight win.
On the Road - The Celtics are once more playing on the road in Miami. They will have the distractions of travel and of being away from home and playing on a different court. When the Celtics played there in games 1 and 2 there seemed to be a good sized contingent of Celtics fans there so it wasn’t a completely hostile crowd. The Celtics have shown that they can win on the road, winning Game 2 in Miami and winning 5 of 7 games on the road in these playoffs.
Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. Some favor the home team. Some favor the road team. Some just make bad, head scratching calls. In Games 3 and 4 in Boston, the Celtics got a friendly whistle and so the Heat may get some home cooking in this game. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls and no calls take them out of the game or affect their focus. Most of all, the Celtics have to stop complaining after every call instead of getting back on defense. Focus on playing the game and not on the officials.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 3.5-point favorites on the road for a pivotal Game 5 in Miami. As with the first four games, the injury reports from both teams and the mystery and vagueness around them make it difficult to predict what could happen game-to-game. For the Celtics, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams remain game-time decisions. The Heat have their myriad of nagging ailments, too. However, outside of Tyler Herro missing Game 4 with a groin injury, everybody was available for Miami and expect the same in South Beach tonight.
The story of the series so far has been turnovers. With Miami struggling in the half court, they’ve relied on their defense to generate TO’s and get out in transition. In Boston’s losses in Game 1 and 3, they coughed up the ball 40 times. They’ve cut that number nearly in half (21) in their wins. The Heat are a high pressure, handsy crew on defense, not unlike the Celtics. But whereas Boston has dialed back their aggressiveness a bit in favor of forcing Miami to unfavorable shots in the mid-range, the Heat have continued to play up on the Celtics’ playmakers.
Heat fans have clamored about the free throw disparity so far in the series. The Celtics are a +39 in attempts through four games. After going to the line 18 times in Game 1, Jimmy Butler has only shot ten FT’s over the last three games, including zero in Game 4. To some extent, like turnovers, that’s a product of the Heat’s defensive aggressiveness. Tatum shot sixteen free throws on Monday night, turning the tables on Miami’s pressure. A home whistle could certainly help the Heat at FTX Arena tonight.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.