It wasn’t pretty, but the Boston Celtics took the lead in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time, and the Miami Heat face elimination in Route 6 game less than 48 hours after another battle of attrition.
Neither team could find the net in the first half, but the Celtics unleashed 24-2 over the six minutes that spanned between the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the fourth. The avalanche turned the first home-and-away game of the series into a lopsided fifth win in a row. Boston’s top-ranked defense caught Miami with 32% shooting from the field and 16% accuracy from a 3-point range in the 93-80 titled tied series win.
Celtics stars Jason Tatum and Jaylene Brown collected 10 points from 16 shots in the first half, but made all five of their attempts to start the fourth quarter, including four three-pointers, to widen the difference to 83-60. Brown scored a game-high 25 points, and Tatum finished one assist in a three-way (22 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists) to lead Boston in a game from their 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] He can go out and score 40 points, so we just have to be great from game to game. This game is considered one and only. We must be ready for the next stage.”
The Celtics, who are 40-4 in franchise history when leading a 3-2 series, host Game 6 on Friday. Boston fans will remember 2012, when the Celtics advanced 3-2 in the conference finals and lost to the Heat.
Both teams shot less than 40% from the field and worse than the three-point line in the first half. Miami scored 12 points from Boston’s 10 turnovers and 16 points from nine offensive rebounds—and only led 42-37 into the break. It was ugly. On the bright side, the series saw its first changes since the first quarter of Game 2.
Injuries did not help. Marcus Smart entered the field limping with a sprained ankle. Robert Williams III started on a surgically repaired knee. Tatum re-aggravated his fiery shoulder twice. Butler nurses a swollen right knee while Kyle Lowry suffers a left hamstring injury. Tyler Hero has never seen court on an injured thigh.
Butler, Laurie and Max Strauss, who was also under suspicion with a hamstring injury entering the match and limping off the bench while doing so, finished 4 for 33 off the field. They are 8 for 60 (13%) in the last two games.
The Celtics started the third quarter with a score of 8-0 and closed it in a 10-0 run to double the Heat and take a 69-58 lead in the fourth quarter. Miami missed 19 of 23 field goals and 13 of 14 shots from 3 points in the third. The Heat couldn’t manufacture anything but a few tough jump shots from Gabe Vincent. Reserves Vincent, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin scored 33 of Miami’s 80 points that night.
Boston expanded its lead to 23 in the early fourth quarter. Pam Adebayo responded with eight consecutive points for Miami, and Vincent crowned 3 points 16-6 reducing the difference to 13 with 4:18 remaining. The Heat couldn’t even get close, leaving Brown and Tatum’s other four spots with nothing but trash time.
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