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Bucks loss to Heat not surprising but a warning to Celtics

The Celtics credited the Heat as a talented team, but as they prepared to play a surprising Game 6, saw the NBA’s best team falling in the first round as a warning.

Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

ATLANTA — The Celtics gained home court advantage for the entirety of the NBA Playoffs when Jimmy Butler flipped in a last-second lob toward the basket and led the Heat to a Game 5 win in overtime. Miami knocked out Milwaukee, 4-1, the Vegas title favorite that charged past Boston on a 16-game win steak and emerged as its top competitor.

The win marked the Celtics’ fourth major break of the postseason, the first coming when Atlanta defeated the Heat in the play-in tournament. The second occurred when hen Joel Embiid fell with an LCL sprain in round one, which put him at risk of missing time in a second-round series against Boston.

The Hawks helped the Celtics avoid the uncharacteristically difficult first-round opponent, Butler playing like a league MVP, averaging 37.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals on 59.7% shooting. Giannis Antetokounmpo fell to a back injury, missing two games and almost the entirety of Game 1, a development that particularly stared Boston down as it prepared to play a burdensome Game 6 after blowing a late 13-point in a potential closeout Game 5. It served as a warning — anyone can lose in these playoffs.

“I wasn’t too surprised, the Heat is a dangerous team, we all know it,” Marcus Smart said this morning in Atlanta. “The Heat play different in the playoffs, and they play the Bucks really well. I’m not as surprised as probably others, but I am surprised that they went down the way that they went down. It just goes to show you, it’s the playoffs. Anything can happen and you’ve gotta be ready at all times.”

While Antetokounmpo’s injury became the largest reason the Heat escaped the series, and likely part of why the star contested the notion of a failed season at the podium on Wednesday, he returned to score 64 points on 26-of-49 shooting with 30 rebounds and 16 assists. The Heat navigated major injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. The series, like the one between the Celtics and Hawks, proved more closely contested than expected.

That’s why Boston’s opportunity to close its opening round hurt so badly, even without admission from the Celtics themselves. Smart already avoided missing time with back injury after he fell to the floor late in Game 3. Dejounte Murray returns on Thursday night, his suspension for Game 5 the fourth break on top of the aforementioned ones.

Trae Young found his shot, hitting the first and final Hawks threes of the night from far behind the three-point line. The Celtics gave Atlanta a reason to believe, and made life more difficult on themselves, something they now speak about as an almost unavoidable reality.

“We definitely played to not lose instead of to win it,” Smart told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog. “That happens. Unfortunately, it happened to us and we just made things a little bit harder for ourselves, but we got another great opportunity to be here. God has blessed us to wake up today and have another day to come out and try to bring it home tonight.”

The Knicks and Heat begin their second-round series on Sunday, while Philadelphia will receive nine days off between rounds one and two after Boston’s Game 5 loss kicked Game 1 from Saturday to Monday, May 1. That could become the difference between Embiid missing 1-2 games, or any time at all. If the Celtics play a Game 7 on Saturday against the Hawks, they’ll receive only one off day between series, a significant disadvantage.

That’s the playoffs, Joe Mazzulla said after Game 5, taking the same even-keeled approach he did after regular season losing streaks. The Celtics followed his lead and quickly looked forward to Thursday, an approach that worked as Boston never lost more than three games in a row on its way to the No. 2 seed.

Any concern about slippages costing them the top seed dissipated and however incidental, their path to the Finals now looks like the ideal one in retrospect with New York, off a five-game beatdown over Cleveland, and Butler’s scorching Heat on a collision course that could bring 1990s basketball back.

The Celtics feel like a lock against a Philadelphia team they’ve owned since the Process era began. But so did the Bucks against a middling Miami team that finished 26th in offense.

“It was a 1-8 seed, but ... I wouldn’t necessarily call it an upset,” Tatum said. “Miami’s a really good team, a really great coach, obviously, they got some great players. They just made plays. I guess people weren’t expecting them to win, but I wouldn’t call it an upset. They always had talent on their team, it wasn’t like they were an untalented team.”

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