9/27 Game 6 Preview: Celtics at Heat
Two teams that hope to have learned something from the second half of their previous encounter will attempt to put their new information to good use Sunday night when the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics square off in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals near Orlando.
The fifth-seeded Heat remain one win away from their first NBA Finals appearance in six years after squandering a seven-point halftime lead in a 121-108 loss in Game 5 on Friday night.
The win allowed the third-seeded Celtics not only to remain alive in the best-of-seven but move to within two wins of another NBA Finals appearance of their own, an opportunity the 17-time champions haven't had since 2010.
Both teams came out of Friday's game talking energy -- some used, some kept in reserve.
"We knew we had to play better. We were fighting for our life," Celtics star Jayson Tatum said of the mood at halftime of a game his team trailed 58-51. "It was going to take a collective effort in the second half, and that's what we did."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra agreed, then spun it in his team's direction.
"Boston played great in the second half. They deserved and earned what they got," he assured. "We understand how tough it is to win in the playoffs. We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that."
With Tatum and Miami's Jimmy Butler neutralizing each other's brilliance, the first five games have swung in the favor of the team with the more productive supporting cast.
The Heat got that from Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder with a combined 51 points in an overtime win in Game 1. Then from Duncan Robinson's six 3-pointers and 18 points in Game 2. And most notably, from Tyler Herro's historic 37-point flurry in Game 4 that brought the Heat within arm's length of advancing.
The Celtics countered that with a combined 67 points from Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart in their first win in Game 3, and with an out-of-nowhere double-double from Daniel Theis that helped keep Boston alive on Friday.
Such has been the up-and-down nature of the series. Herro followed up his 37-point explosion with just 14 in Game 5. Meanwhile, Theis had totaled just 18 points and 21 rebounds in Boston's three losses before going for 15 and 13 on Friday.
Something else that reversed itself in Game 5 was the series' turnover disparity. After the Celtics had averaged 4.7 more per game in the first four meetings, they had two fewer (13-11) than the Heat in Game 5.
That led to the Heat losing their greatest advantage in building a 3-1 lead: Shot attempts. Even though Boston had connected at a greater rate, Miami had averaged 6.0 more shots than the Celtics before Friday, when Boston held a 93-86 edge.
Neither team lists a significant injury for Game 6, but you have to wonder about Heat center Bam Adebayo, who has been nursing a sore left wrist in the series.
He shot under 50 percent (5-for-11) for the first time since Game 1 and was held to a series-low 13 points on Friday, accumulating a minus-15 plus/minus after having been in the positive in each of the first four games.
"I'll put that game on me," he said afterward. "I feel like I was a step behind today. I wasn't a difference-maker today."