How the Celtics can keep it going and force a Game 7 against the Heat
BOSTON -- The Celtics are inching closer to doing the unthinkable and overcoming a 3-0 series hole in the Eastern Conference Finals. But even after two straight convincing wins over the Heat, Boston's work is far from done.
Now the Celtics have to go win another game in Miami on Saturday night, as they look to become just the third team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0.
"They let us get two. Don't let us get another one," Jaylen Brown told TNT after Thursday night's 110-97 win at TD Garden.
The Celtics did just about everything right in Game 5, but one thing they can't do at the moment is get complacent. They cannot get cocky, even if they absolutely deserve to have some swagger after dominating the last 72 minutes of the series. Their backs are still against the wall, and they need to play like a desperate team on Saturday.
The Heat are certainly going to play desperate, and treat Saturday night like it's a Game 7. Here's what the Celtics need to continue to do if they want to see an actual Game 7 in Boston on Monday night.
Keep upping the pressure
The pressure is on Miami now. The Heat looked like world beaters in Games 1 and 3, and stunned the Celtics with a fourth-quarter comecback in Game 2. But since taking a nine-point lead in the third quarter of Game 4, this series has been allllllllllll Celtics.
You can thank a renewed sense of urgency and cohesiveness on defense for that. When Boston ups the defensive pressure, it leads to easy looks and a faster pace on offense. That usually means a lot of twine tickling for the Celtics.
The Heat never got comfortable against the Boston defense on Thursday and it showed. When they weren't taking forced shots, they were either giving the ball right to the Celtics or letting someone poke it away, which in turn gave the ball right to the Celtics. Miami turned the ball over 16 times, including 13 steals by the Celtics. Those 16 turnovers turned into 27 mostly easy points for Boston.
It'd be silly to expect the Celtics to come away with that many steals again in Miami. But if they continue to apply the pressure to Miami's ball-handlers, they should be able to generate more Heat mistakes and use them to get some easy looks on their own end.
Controlling Jimmy and Bam
The Celtics finest work on the defensive end Thursday night was on Miami's two stars: Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Heat shot 51 percent overall as a team, but Butler and Bam were essentially non-factors.
Butler received a heavy dose of Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum as his primary defenders, and they kept him from doing much of anything. Butler attempted just three shots when guarded by either Smart or Tatum, and hit two of them. Overall, he took just 10 shots in Game 5, and only six free throws, as the Celtics kept Jimmy Butler from being Jimmy Butler. He was a a team-worst minus-24 over his 34 minutes.
Adebayo had a decent night hitting six of his eight shots, but he scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter when the Celtics were in lead preservation mode. He also turned the ball over six times in his three quarters of action, making him a factor, just for the wrong reasons.
With pressure mounting on the Heat, the pressure is really building on the team's two stars to step it up.
Set up the three-ball
The Celtics go by way of the three. Love it or hate it, that's just the way it is. If they're hitting their threes, chances are they're going to win -- and likely win going away.
The caveat with that is how they get their threes. If it's Tatum or Brown just sauntering down the court, getting to the line and hoisting a three, those aren't good shots. If it's Marcus Smart taking one with 21 seconds on the shot clock with no one underneath the basket, that is not a good shot.
But when the Celtics whip the ball around and turn the Miami defense into a tangled mess, it leads to wide open looks. Those are the kind of threes the Celtics need to manufacture.
The Celtics hit 18 threes on Tuesday, and an assist was attached to 15 of them. They hit 16 threes in Game 5, and recorded an assist on 15 of those. If hockey assists were a recorded stat in the NBA, the Celtics would have picked up at least half a dozen of those too.
Derrick White was a dead-eye on Thursday, making six of his eight 3-point attempts. Smart was just as good, hitting four of his six attempts. Even Brown got his groove back, hitting three of five from downtown.
When Boston has hit 39 percent or more of its threes this postseason, the Celtics are 9-1. When they can less than 40 percent of their threes, they're just 3-7. The C's are 0-5 when shooting below 35 percent from 3-point land.
Volume-wise, 15 is Boston's magic number from downtown. When they make 15 or more from deep, the Celtics are nearly unstoppable at 9-2. When they make less than 15, their record is just 1-6. The C's are 0-4 this postseason when they've had less than a dozen threes.
So the Celtics need to keep letting them fly, because there is no way Miami can keep up with them if they're making threes. But it's important to throw up the right kind of threes, and those are the ones that are the product of stellar ball movement.
Don't. Get. Cocky.
The energy has shifted for sure. The Celtics have gained momentum and can steal it completely with a win on Saturday. But they still need to win or their season is over, and they can't forget that.
They've proven that they're a dangerous bunch with everything on the line. They've answered the call over the last two games. But the Celtics are at their worst when they get complacent, when they feel like they can -- or even should -- win by just showing up. There is no room for any of that Saturday night.
The Celtics can't assume that the Heat will succumb to the mounting pressure. They can't assume that just because they've won two straight that they've got it all figured out. They can't assume anything.
Jimmy Butler remains a dangerous man, and the Heat remain a dangerous team. Miami may be running out of gas, but the Celtics can't take their foot off the pedal.
for more features.