Coup’s Takeaways: Celtics First To Find Offense In Ugly, Grind-It-Out Game 5

by Couper Moorhead

1. This didn’t feel like a Game 5. It didn’t feel like a Game 6 or a Game 7. This felt like a Game 11. Everyone looked tired. Everyone looked hurt. Nobody could shoot. Any points, in any fashion, felt absolutely massive. There was beauty in what was happening, if you looked closely enough, but it was covered in about ten tons of mud and much and slime. 

Normally, that’s where the HEAT are more than happy to live. They want to turn it into a defensive battle. They want to make you uncomfortable. They want to make you earn any inch. But the harsh reality of this series, now 3-2 Boston heading back north, is that Boston is just as happy to play that game, too. And through five games they’ve been beating the HEAT by their own design.

It was a game, for a time. Miami led by five at the break and Boston wasn’t exactly in any sort of offensive flow. Then the third quarter hit, 32-16 for the visitors, and there wasn’t a thing the home team could get going with the ball. There isn’t much more to say about this one. Boston won ugly, and they found their offense before the Miami could with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combining for 47 on a night when the HEAT’s starters scored 42. It’s not over. Not hardly. It’s just a tough loss at home to shake off before taking on the task of forcing a Game 7 with a road win.

2. Miami’s recipe for success was on full display in the first half. With neither offense able to get much of anything going – the halfcourt numbers were some of the worst you’ll see in any game – the HEAT were able to keep things afloat, as they’ve done for much of the postseason, by forcing turnovers and grabbing offensive boards. Gabe Vincent – the HEAT’s most impactful player for stretches of this game and maybe their most consistent player in this series – Victor Oladipo and Caleb Martin were all invaluable for their ball pressure off the bench, especially in defending Jaylen Brown (four first-half turnovers) as he continued to struggle to secure the ball when attacking the rim. You wouldn’t watch that half and think the HEAT found answers for what the Celtics have schemed for defensively, switching off-ball actions for shooters and crowding the paint for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. They simply found ways to succeed without those answers. It’s not pretty, but it’s what the HEAT have to do in order to generate points in this series.

Unfortunately, Miami could have used a little bit of pretty in the second half. Those Boston turnovers dried up (six in the second half), the offensive rebounds did the same as the Celtics started crashing the defensive glass with more bodies, and the HEAT couldn’t find their shooting (7-of-45 from deep) as the Celtics led by as much as 23. There may be a clear path for success in this series, but it’s a path littered with obstacles and shrouded in darkness.

3. Putting aside the shooting for a moment – it was historically bad, and we mean that in a literal, statistical sense – there are reasons why Miami’s halfcourt offense struggled as much as it did beyond the usual make-or-miss. Yes, the HEAT are dealing with injuries (as are the Celtics). But with Robert Williams healthy-ish and available the two-man combo of him and Al Horford has been a nightmare to create good looks against. Miami opened the game with another handful of mid-range jumpers, and though they eventually launched those 45 threes so very many of them were either contested or shot under duress with a defender coming around a screen from behind. We came into this series discussing how Boston has turned itself into an incredible switching team, just like Miami, but in the end their defense has been most dominant in taking a page out of Milwaukee’s book from last season’s playoffs. Shut off the rim with size, shut down the easy passing angles and pet actions that get the shooters going, and live with the results. To bring it full circle, you beat that style of defense with shooting, and shooting hasn’t been in the cards.

Miami’s halfcourt offense finished at 59.3 points-per-play, to Boston’s 90.2, and there might be no other number that defines this series so clearly. This has truly been a defensive battle. Boston’s offense has just been better.


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