Miami Heat (3-1) at Boston Celtics (1-3) Eastern Conference Finals Game #5 5/25/23

After playing with little energy and no defense in the first 3 games, the Celtics finally returned to their defensive identity in Game 4 to force a Game 5. The Celtics were mostly competitive in the first two games, getting out to a lead in both games but fading down the stretch to lose Game 1 123-116 and Game 2 111-105. But in Game 3, the Celtics were never competitive and seemed like they had already given up. So it was a pleasant surprise to see them play with some intensity and finally playing defense in Game 4.

150 teams have fallen into an 0-3 deficit in a 7 game series in NBA playoff history. None of those 150 have ever come back from 0-3 to win the series. 61% of the 150 teams (92 teams) were swept. 29% of the teams that avoided a sweep (44 teams) lost the series in 5 games. 11 teams lost in 6 games and only 3 forced a Game 7 but lost. So, the Celtics face a daunting task to win 3 more games and win the series. It starts with winning Game 5 at home.

The Celtics are not ready to give up. They had a team meeting after the Game 3 loss and have said that they are all on the same page and ready to play together. Joe Mazzulla, after taking the blame for the Game 3 collapse, said that he has faith in his players to pull this out. Al Horford said that the Celtics are not out yet if they find their defensive DNA, they can win the series. Jaylen Brown said that they would fight until the end and that they needed to come out and play with pride. They showed that defensive identity and fight in Game 4. Hopefully they can keep it up in this game.

There is a Boston precedent of coming back from an 0-3 deficit, although not the Celtics. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox faced the rival New York Yankees in the ALCS. They lost the first 3 games in the series and were trailing in the ninth inning of the fourth game. They came back to win the final 4 games of that series and then went on to sweep the St Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win the title. Along with this Red Sox team, 4 hockey teams have recovered from being down 0-3 in the playoffs to win the title. But, no NBA team has ever accomplished this feat.

The Celtics once again have just Danilo Gallinari on the injury list as he rehabs from a torn ACL. Jaylen Brown has had some problems with a hand injury but has been playing through them. Malcolm Brogdon has been playing through a partially torn tendon in his elbow and is expected to continue to play through it.

For the Heat, Victor Oladipo is out for the season after having patellar tendon surgery in his left knee. Tyler Herro also remains out after breaking the middle and ring fingers on his right hand in the first round series against Milwaukee. Gabe Vincent turned his ankle in Game 4, but returned to finish the game. He is listed as out for this game. I expect Kyle Lowry to start the game in his place. .

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford

Celtics Reserves
Malcolm Brogdon
Grant Williams
Sam Hauser
Payton Pritchard
Luke Kornet
Blake Griffin
Mike Muscala
Robert Williams III

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Heat Starters

PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo

Heat Reserves
Udonis Haslem
Haywood Highsmith
Nikola Jovic
Caleb Martin
Duncan Robinson
Cody Zeller

2 Way Players
Jamal Cain
Dru Smith

Tyler Herro (hand) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Gabe Vincent (ankle) questionable

Head Coach
Erik Spoelstra

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is the key to Miami’s success. He struggled in Game 3, finishing with just 14 points while shooting 33% from the field and hitting just 1 of 7 three pointers but with little defense from the Celtics, the role players stepped up and they got the win. Butler finished Game 4 with 29 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block but he shot just 42.9% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum stepped up in Game 4 after struggling in the first 3 games. Even if Tatum doesn’t start at small forward, this is the matchup to watch.

Al Horford vs Bam Adebayo
After playing very well in Games 1 and 2, Adebayo had a very quiet Game 3, finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He also had a quiet Game 4 with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal. He shot 57.1% from the field. He is dangerous around the basket to score and to grab rebounds. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. When he is aggressive, he can be a big problem.

Honorable Mention
Malcolm Brogdon vs Caleb Martin
Martin has played very well in all 4 games so far. He had 18 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in Game 3 while shooting 64.6% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc. He also played well in Game 4 with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. He shot 66.7% from the field and 40% on three pointers. The Celtics need Brogdon to step up and they also need to try to limit Martin in this one.

Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense will always be the biggest key to winning every game and is even more important in the playoffs. And, defense was the biggest failing for the Celtics in the first 3 games. We finally saw the Celtics get back to their defensive identity in Game 4 and they need to keep up the effort on that end if they hope to win this game. In Game 4, the defense keyed the offense as they got stops and forced turnovers and were running for transition 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 were out-rebounded in both Games 1 and 2. However, they out-rebounded the Heat 57-35 in Game 3 with 21 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. That was in part because of the Celtics missing so many shots and the Heat hitting most of theirs. The Celtics were out-rebounded 44-39 in Game 4. The Celtics have to work harder on the boards than the Heat and win the rebounding battle if they want to win this game.

Be Aggressive – The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. For the first 3 games, they have allowed the Heat to be more aggressive and to play with more energy and effort. The Celtics must be more aggressive in driving to the basket, in diving for loose balls, in boxing out and going for rebounds, and they have to be the team that just plays harder. The Celtics must especially be more aggressive on defense. They have to have each other’s backs and they have to play smart team defense once again.

Take Care of the Ball – In the first 3 games, the Celtics have been sloppy with the ball and turned it over way too much. In Game 1, they had 15 turnovers for 22 Heat points. In Game 2, they had 15 turnovers once again for 20 Heat point. In Game 3, they once again had 15 turnovers for 18 Heat points. In Game 4, they finally cut down their turnovers to 10 and that helped to get the win. On the other hand, their defense forced 16 turnovers by the Heat for 27 Celtics points off those turnovers. 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 careful when handling the ball and not dribble into a crowd and not get sloppy with the ball. They simply must be more focused on avoiding turnovers.

Home Game – Home court hasn’t meant much for the Celtics in these playoffs. The Celtics are 4-5 at home so far in the playoffs and 5-3 on the road. The Heat are 6-1at home so far and 4-3 on the road. The Celtics can’t assume that they will win because they are at home because the Heat have already taken two games in Boston in this series. The Garden needs to be as loud as they were for Game 7 to cheer the Celtics to a win in this one.

Coaching – Much has been made of the coaching matchup between rookie coach Joe Mazzulla and very experienced Erik Spoelstra. Joe Mazzulla has come under much scrutiny for his lineup decisions, his lack of time outs, and other coaching decisions in the first 3 games but he got some kudos for his decisions in Game 4. Spoelstra has clearly gotten the upper hand in the first 3 games, but Mazzulla came out on top in Game 4. Which coach will make the right moves in this game?

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 of some sort. 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. The Celtics simply must stop complaining about every single call. Focus on playing the game and not on the officials.

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