It wasn’t pretty, but the Boston Celtics took the lead in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time and the Miami Heat are facing elimination in an away game 6 less than 48 hours after another battle of attrition.
Neither team could find the net in the first half, but the Celtics launched a 24-2 six-minute run that stretched through the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the fourth. The Avalanche turned the first back-and-forth game of the series into a fifth straight one-sided win. Boston’s top-flight defense kept Miami at 32% shots from the field and 16% accuracy from 3-pointers in the 93-80 win that won the tie series title.
Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 10 points on 16 shots in the first half, but they made all five attempts to start the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers to extend their lead to 83-60 . Brown posted a game-high 25 points, and Tatum finished one assist short of a triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists) to lead Boston in a game of his first Finals appearance since 2010.
“We just play basketball,” Brown told ESPN after the win. “It’s the playoffs. One game, you win. The next game, [Jimmy Butler] come out and get 40 points, so we just have to be great game to game. This game only counts as one. We have to be ready for the next one.”
The Celtics, who are 40-4 in franchise history when they lead a 3-2 streak, host Game 6 on Friday. Boston fans will remember 2012 when the Celtics went 3-2 in the Conference Finals took the lead and lost to the Heat.
Both teams shot under 40% from the field and worse from the 3-point line in the first half. Miami had 12 points from 10 Boston turnovers and 16 points from nine offensive rebounds – and led just 42-37 at the break. It was ugly. On the plus side, the series saw its first lead changes since the opening quarter of Game 2.
Injuries didn’t help. Marcus Smart hobbled into the arena with a sprained ankle. Robert Williams III started with a surgically repaired knee. Tatum aggravated his shooting shoulder twice again. Butler tends a swollen right knee and Kyle Lowry tends a strained left Achilles tendon. Tyler Herro never saw the court with a groin injury.
Butler, Lowry and Max Strus, who also came into play with a questionable hamstring injury while limping onto the bench, finished the field 4 for 33. They are 8 for 60 (13%) in their last two games.
“We don’t apologize for anything,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after a second loss in a row. “We don’t distract anything. We don’t apologize for that. We lost the game today. We had a bad loss in Boston. We’re still alive. We have the opportunity to play in front of a great crowd [in a potential Game 7 on Sunday] and an opportunity to create a memory that you will remember for a long time. That’s all we’re thinking about right now, and we have the kind of warriors that will pull themselves together, steel themselves, do whatever we have to do to prepare for the next one, and just embrace this competition and enjoy it. “
The Celtics started the third quarter with an 8-0 run and closed it out with a 10-0 run to double the Heat and lead 69-58 into the fourth quarter. Miami missed 19 of their 23 field goal attempts and 13 of 14 3-point shots in the third. The Heat couldn’t produce anything but a couple of hard jump shots from Gabe Vincent. Reserves Vincent, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin scored 33 of Miami’s 80 points that night.
Boston extended their lead to 23 early in the fourth quarter. Bam Adebayo responded with eight straight points for Miami, and a Vincent 3-pointer capped a 16-6 run that reduced the deficit to 13 with 4:18 remaining. Adebayo (18 points) and Vincent (15 points) were eliminated from the field 14 to 27. Her teammates were 16 for 67.
The Heat couldn’t get any closer as four more points from Brown and Tatum left nothing but trash time.
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