The Celtics will look to reach their first NBA Finals since 2010 when they host the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night. The Celtics went up in the series for the first time with their 93-80 win in Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday. They have won Game 4 in Boston and Game 5 in Miami and are looking to close out the series in this game.
The Celtics are 40-4 when leading 3-2 in a best of 7 series. There have been 333 times that a team has gone up 3-2 in NBA history. The team leading 3-2 wins the series 83.8% of the time. However, in the last 3 years, the team trailing has won, including these Celtics and the current Mavericks teams in round 2 of these current playoffs. The Celtics have lost in their last 4 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, twice giving up a 3-2 lead.
The Celtics are 86-68 all time in closeout games. They are 48-19 when those closeout games are on their home court. Jayson Tatum has been to 3 Eastern Conference Finals already in his young career. Hopefully the memory of 2018 is still fresh in their memory as they had a 3-2 lead on LeBron James and the Cavaliers and lost games 6 and 7 when LeBron scored 46 and 35 to lead the Cavs to the Finals.
The Heat are a tough team and will not go quietly. I expect Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker especially to come out strong and play hard to try to bring the series back to South Beach for a Game 7. It will be up to the Celtics to play as a team and to do what has worked in their wins in these playoffs and not to let up and give the Heat an opening.
Robert Williams (knee) and Marcus Smart (ankle) are both back on the injury list as questionable going into this game. Both played in Game 5 but played just 26 and 23 minutes respectively. I expect both to play in this game if it is at all possible for them to do so, even if it is for limited minutes once again. I have included both in the starting lineup. Sam Hauser is out with a shoulder injury.
The Heat have once again listed 5 players on their injury list as questionable. Max Strus (hamstring), Gabe Vincent (hamstring), Kyle Lowry (hamstring), PJ Tucker (knee) and Tyler Herro (groin) are all listed as questionable. Erik Spoelstra has indicated that all players who were available for Wednesday’s game should play in this game also. That leaves Tyler Herro as the only player who is actually questionable. He sat out the last 2 games for the Heat and will be a game time decision for this game.
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
PJ Tucker (knee) questionable
Gabe Vincent (hamstring) questionable
Max Strus (hamstring) questionable
Tyler Herro (groin) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
This is definitely the key matchup for this game and for this series. 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 and had 13 points, 6 rebounds 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in Game 5. It may be the knee injury that limited him in the last 3 games but I expect him to be ready to come out and play hard in this game. Limiting his scoring and play making will once again be crucial to getting a win in this game. Jayson Tatum has played well in all but Game 3 and the Celtics will need a big game from him again in this one.
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. In Game 5 he had 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. I imagine that one of the adjustments Spoelstra will try to make is to get Adebayo more involved and have him be more aggressive. The Celtics need to be ready to counter that.
Marcus Smart vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry has struggled throughout this series and especially so in Game 5 when he finished with no points, 1 rebound, no assists and 3 turnovers. Lowry is a veteran who has won a championship and knows that his team needs more from him and will come out and fight hard for his team in this game. Marcus Smart played in Game 5 and I expect him to play in this game in spite of swelling and pain from his sprained ankle and the Celtics will need him to play and to play well.
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 aggressive team defense and they have to make defense a priority. They can’t afford to let up on defense even a little bit. They have to come into this game with the mindset that they are going to make every shot the Heat take a difficult one. No open looks to give them any easy baskets.
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. In Game 5 they were out rebounded 26-21 in the first half but came back and out rebounded the Heat 25-23 when they made their run in the second half. The Celtics must put out the extra energy and effort to beat the Heat to rebounds.
Horford and Timelord - The Celtics are 5-0 with a +105 differential vs the Heat when both Robert Williams and Al Horford play. The Celtics are 0-3 when one or the other is out. Hopefully Robert will be good to go and his balky knee will not be swollen and will allow him to play. I have no doubt that Al will be good to go. He has been the most consistent Celtic in these playoffs. But, the Celtics need both to play well to get a win in this crucial Game 6.
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 three wins, they limited their turnovers to just 9 in the first two wins. They turned the ball over 10 times in the first half of Game 5 when they struggled but limited themselves to just 5 turnovers in the second half when they took over. 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. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum especially need to focus more on their ball handling and limit their turnovers.
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. It would be easy to let up and think that they have dominated in the last 2 games and also that they have another chance to close it out if they lose. 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 so often after wins in the last 2 series. They have to play like it is game 7 and play like it’s a must win game because winning Game 7 in Miami won’t be easy.
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. Erik Spoelstra is a coach with championship experience and Ime Udoka is a rookie coach in his first head coaching job. Udoka has more than held his own in this matchup so far. Hopefully he has one more game of adjustments up his sleeve to get the Celtics into the Finals.
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home for Game 6. The Heat aren’t a bad road team and they have already won one in Boston in this series. They will have the distractions of being on the road and having to stay in a hotel and the cheers (and jeers) of the Celtics fans, which are always loud in the playoffs. The Celtics need to reward their fans with a game where they give maximum effort to defeat a rival team in what will be a key game in this series and a win will get them into the Finals for the first time since 2010.
Close Out Game - Close out games are always the hardest games to win. The team that is up tends to relax a little and whether consciously or unconciously they let the other team get going and often they can’t stop them. The team that is down has their backs against the wall and play with more urgency. The Celtics can’t relax and they have to play with more urgency than the Heat.
Injuries - Most of the players on both teams are banged up in some way. The Celtics had a grueling 7 game series against the Bucks with no rest before heading into and even more grueling series against the Heat. Hopefully both Timelord and Marcus Smart will be able to play and be effective. Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are both playing through injuries and I have no doubt both will play and play hard. Herro may or may not play but I expect everyone else to be out there. Which team can play through their injuries better?
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. At times the officials have an agenda to extend a series, which may come into play 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 8.5-point favorites hosting (and hopefully, closing out) the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. For most of the series, injuries and absences have been the story going into every game, but after two convincing wins in Boston and Miami, the line clearly reflects the Celtics as the favorite and beast of the East.
On Wednesday night, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said that he was happy with Miami’s shot selection in Game 5. To some extent, he’s right. They generated 62 uncontested shots to Boston’s 42. Unfortunately, the Celtics hit 17 of them and the Heat only 16 and a large chunk of Miami’s 7-for-45 performance from behind the arc was their starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Max Strus missing all 12 of their three-pointers. However, Spoelstra said that there are several “ignitable” players on his team and the league’s best 3-point shooting team in the regular season will need to catch fire to hush what will be a raucous TD Garden.
For the Celtics, the recipe is simple: take care of the ball and defend. Their two losses in this series have been marred by 39 turnovers and after a sketchy start in Game 5, they tightened their handle and won going away. For the most part, they’ve limited the offensive engines of the Heat. Bam Adebayo has been neutralized by Al Horford and Robert Williams and Jimmy Butler looks like a shell of himself with Boston daring him to shoot from outside.
However, in a do-or-die game, there’s always an element of expected desperation. Throw out the analytics, the stats, and the injury reports. The Celtics seemed poised to deal with all of it with a trip to The Finals on the line tonight. “We don’t want to give them life. Close out games are the toughest games. We know they’re going to come out and up their physicality and do things that they need to do to try and stay in this series,” Derrick White said at shootaround this morning. “We can’t relax and think it’s over. They’re not going to give up, so we got to be ready to go.”
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing