The last five weeks have been nothing short of a fairy tale for the Miami Heat.
Miami has gone all the way from the play-in tournament to a 3-0 lead over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals behind the otherworldly play of Jimmy Butler. The Heat have yet to trail the win count in a single one of their three best-of-seven match-ups so far, further underscoring their dominance over this stretch.
Just a few days ago, it was largely assumed that Miami was all set to wrap up the Eastern Conference Finals with a sweep and book their ticket back to the NBA Finals. The Heat were dominant as much as the Celtics were lethargic in Game 3 where they took a blowout 128-102 win on their home floor.
However, no one could have expected the sudden shift in Boston’s demeanor come Game 4.
The Celtics claimed a 116-99 victory at Miami and carried over their momentum back to Boston where they punched a 110-97 Game 5 win to trim the Heat’s lead in this series to 3-2.
Miami has relied on its relentless intensity to get this far, but the Celtics are suddenly not just matching, but exceeding their on-court vigor. Boston raced out to a 20-5 lead in Game 5 and their lead would not fall below 10 points for the remainder of the evening. The loss also marked the Heat’s first consecutive defeats since late March which was the tail end of the regular season.
One major factor for the sudden swing in this best-of-seven is the Celtics’ defense. Boston used a pesky help defense strategy to limit Butler (16 points) and Bam Adebayo (14) to a combined 30 points in Game 5, well below their average of 46.3 in this postseason. This also led Miami to commit 16 turnovers on the evening versus the Celtics’ nine. Moreover, 13 of the Heat’s errors were credited as steals by Boston.
Miami clearly missed the services of starting guard Gabe Vincent who sat out with an ankle sprain that he suffered in the prior contest. Vincent’s absence only exacerbated the talent gap between these two rosters and it remains to be seen if the Heat still have enough gas left in the tank to hold off the Celtics.
One encouraging takeaway from Game 5 was the strong play of Miami’s reserves, particularly Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, and the seldom-used Haywood Highsmith. This trio combined for 47 points off the bench and, at times, looked like the only Heat players with any fight left in them.
This shorthanded Miami group will need them to replicate this performance while simultaneously drawing a better showing from Butler and Adebayo if they are to still win this series. The onus will be on the Heat to wrap it all up with a win in this upcoming Game 6 at Kasey Center to avoid having to play a winner-take-all Game 7 on the road at Boston.
With all things considered, it seems like the clock is about to strike midnight for this Cinderella story Miami team, although it would not come as a surprise if Butler and company eke out one last magical moment before reality catches up with them.