The Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat were both severly banged up heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals and it was evident with how poorly they played during the first two quarters of the contest.
At halftime, Miami led a low-scoring and turnover-filled match by five points, 42-37, and it was clear that whichever team could go on even the slightest of runs first would take the game. That ultimately turned out to be Boston whose 10-0 run spanning the last 2:31 of the third period turned their one-point lead into an 11-point edge heading into the fourth quarter.
The Heat looked dejected and deflated over the course of that brief Celtic run which signaled that there was not much fight left in them by that point. The energy was sapped out of their homecourt FTX Arena and the onslaught continued at the beginning of the final period. Boston increased their lead to 23, 83-60, with slightly eight minutes to go in the match and by then it was too late for Miami to put up a credible rally.
The Celtics won, 93-80, to move within one game of their first NBA Finals berth since 2010 as the series shifts back to the TD Garden for Game 6.
The ailing Jimmy Butler struggled once again for the Heat following his knee injury that saw him miss the second half of their Game 3 win. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block, though he shot only four-of-18 from the field. His statistics have understandably taken a nosedive since that injury and this should have been an opportunity for his NBA All-Star teammate Bam Adebayo to step up.
Instead, Adebayo has been practically invisible all series long save for his outlier 31-point performance in Game 3. The 24-year-old center has been a major let-down for Miami in these Eastern Conference Finals as he has been overwhelmed by the Celtics’ physical front court. It is clear that they will have to retool their frontcourt this coming offseason with bigger players to help alleviate his load.
Although Adebayo led the Heat with 18 points, eight of those came in the fourth quarter when it was already clear that Boston was headed towards victory.
Adebayo is a much more deserving scapegoat than their veteran starting guard Kyle Lowry who was questionable heading into Game 5. The 36-year-old sustained a hamstring injury in the first round that has hampered him since and delayed his series debut to Game 3.
While Lowry had a strong Game 3 showing with 11 points, six assists, and four steals, he has struggled since with three points in Game 4 before going scoreless in Game 5. He has looked like a shell of himself and it is unreasonable to expect more from him given his advanced age and the nature of his injury.
Back-up guard Gabe Vincent has stepped up admirably in his absence, but it is difficult to fully replicate the savvy and leadership that a player like Lowry provides. They missed the scoring presence of Herro as well as their sixth man missed his second consecutive contest with a groin injury.
Though this series is far from over, the odds seemed stacked against a comeback in this series from this battered and bruised Miami team. The tenacity that helped make them the top seed in the East over the regular season has evaporated and their body language late in Game 5 was that of a team that looked resigned to their fate.
It may take a miracle for them to salvage this series and return to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years, yet stranger things have happened. The myth of “Heat Culture” has been tested in many sticky situations like this through the years and this franchise has come out successful on many occasions.
The Heat are down for the count, although if there’s any team that has the collective resilience to bounce out of a hole like this, it’s this one which gives this upcoming Game 6 the potential to become an instant playoff classic.