After the Celtics lost the first 3 games in embarrassing fashion, they were expected to be swept. Then they won Game 4 116-99 in Miami and they came home to win Game 5 110-97. The Celtics rediscovered their defensive identity, holding the Heat to under 100 points in both of those wins. Going back to last season, the Celtics are 7-1 in elimination games. They are 4-0 in elimination games this season.
Teams have found themselves in an 0-3 hole in the playoffs 150 times in NBA history. Of those 150 teams, 92, or 61%, lost Game 4 and were swept. Of the remaining 58 teams that avoided a sweep, 44 of those teams lost in Game 5. Of the 14 teams that won Game 5, 11 teams lost Game 6. Only 3 teams survived Game 6 and were able to force a Game 7. None of those 3 teams were able to win Game 7.
After being embarrassed in Game 3, the Celtics had a team meeting 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 Games 4 and 5. 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 series. But, no NBA team has ever accomplished this feat.
Danilo Gallinari remains out for the Celtics as he continues to rehab a torn ACL. Malcolm Brogdon has been playing through a partially torn tendon in his elbow that results in pain throughout his right forearm. He was cleared to play in Thursday’s Game 5 but struggled with zero points (0-2 FG, 0-2 3Pt). He left Game 5 after playing just 8 minutes and did not return. He is listed as questionable for this game and will be a game time decision. If he does play, he will likely be limited once again. Expect Derrick White, Grant Williams and possibly Payton Pritchard to get more playing time if he can’t play.
Gabe Vincent missed Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the second half of Game 4. He was able to finish Game 4 but was ruled out for Game 5. He is listed as questionable for this game and his status will be a game time decision. I’m expecting him to play but if he can’t, then I expect Kyle Lowry to start in his place. 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.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Malcolm Brogdon (forearm) questionable
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo
2 Way Players
Tyler Herro (hand) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Gabe Vincent (ankle) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
These 2 stars are key to their teams’ success. Butler 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. He once again struggled in Game 5 with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals but he only took 10 shots. He will likely be aggressive and looking to take over this game and the Celtics have to be ready for it. Jayson Tatum needs to be aggressive on offense and on defense for the Celtics to have a chance in this game.
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 finished Game 5 with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. He shot 53.3% from the field and did not attempt a 3 point shot. 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.
Grant Williams vs Duncan Robinson
This will be a matchup of key reserves. Robinson finished Game 5 with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists. He shot 70% from the field and 66.7% from beyond the arc. He is a good shooter and is dangerous on the perimeter. However, he is not the best defender and the Celtics often can target him when they are looking to score. Grant Williams has played very well in this series and the Celtics need him to be aggressive on both offense and defense, especially with Brogdon either limited or out.
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 Games 4 and 5 and they need to keep up the effort on that end if they hope to win this game. In Games 4 and 5, the defense keyed the offense as they got stops and forced turnovers and were running for transition baskets. The Celtics forced 16 turnovers in Game 5 for 27 Celtics points. The Celtics must once again make defense their priority in this game.
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 but they out-rebounded Miami 37-36 in Game 5 and outscored them in 2nd chance points 17-7. 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. Five seconds into Game 5, Marcus Smart immediately set the tone stripping the ball from Bam Adebayo, diving on the loose ball, then getting it to Tatum for a layup and a quick lead. That set the tone for the game. They need that same aggressiveness throughout Game 6 if they want to win it.
3 Point Shooting – Three point shooting is important for the Celtics. The Celtics are 38-2 when they shoot 40% or more from beyond the arc. In the first 3 games, the Celtics shot 29% on 3 pointers and 39% on open 3 pointers. In Games 4 and 5, they shot 40% on 3 pointers and 53% on open 3 pointers. The Celtics have to focus on moving the ball to find the open man and to create the best shots and they have to keep their focus to make those shots.
On the Road – The Celtics are playing on the road once again in this series. They need to get past the distractions of travel and being away from their homes and families and they have to keep from being rattled by the hostile crowd. The Celtics have to tune that out and play their game the right way. They have played better on the road than at home so far in the playoffs and they need to find that road focus in this game. They won Game 4 in Miami and they need to once again dig down deep and get this win on the road to prolong their season.
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 Games 4 and 5. Spoelstra has clearly gotten the upper hand in the first 3 games, but Mazzulla came out on top in the last two games. 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.