1. You couldn’t have scripted a much worse start for Miami in their second attempt at closing this series out.
On the very first possession of the game, Boston sent help on a Bam Adebayo isolation – something they’ve often been reticent to do – forced a turnover and scored in transition. A couple minutes later, with Marcus Smart hitting back-to-back threes, it was already 15-5 Celtics. It didn’t get much better from there – Boston making the plays in the margins, forcing turnovers and grabbing offensive boards, and in the body of the text, shooting 11-of-26 from three in the first half. For a brief moment the HEAT got the lead down to 12, Erik Spoelstra changing the rhythm of the game by toggling to zone, with a few minutes left in the half to continue chipping away, but a minute later it ballooned out to 20. By the break the deficit was 17, still manageable but not quite as manageable as he could have been.
About the same in the third quarter. Even as the HEAT shot the ball pretty well from everywhere, the turnovers were anchoring their offense far below Boston’s efficiency on a night when the home team was capitalizing on all their opportunities from the arc. Every time Miami strung together a couple makes together, the Celtics would answer with their own run and keep the lead in the upper teens if not low 20’s.
Boston – with four starters over 20 points as they finished 41 percent from three – takes this one decisively, 110-97, and the best you can say about the end is that Miami’s bench players, playing five-out with Kevin Love at center, at least forced Boston’s top guys to play out most of the fourth quarter until the deeper roster players came in with three minutes to play. Game 6 is Saturday as Miami gets another chance to close this out.
2. It’s impossible to talk about this game without talking about the turnovers, as the HEAT finished with 16 giveaways, most of which came in the first three quarters while all of the main cast was still on the floor. Miami finished with a below-average Offensive Rating, 111.6, despite shooting well – albeit with depressed three-point volume as Boston closed out aggressively and with discipline – and it all comes down to them not getting a shot up on over a fifth of their possessions during the night’s competitive minutes.
Some context here is needed. The Celtics don’t force a lot of turnovers in part because they haven’t designed their defense to do so. They have so many good one-one-one defenders, and one elite help defender in Rob Williams, that they can switch, flatten out your actions and rely on being able to force tough shots and play off misses. As such, they generally don’t help unless they need to, and historically against Miami they’ve been happy to play guys like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo mostly straight up. Now, in Game 1 the Celtics overcorrected and brought deliberate, obvious and often unnecessary – when the attacker had already picked up their dribble – help which led to a number of good threes for Miami. In Games 2 and 3, they got back to their foundation a bit but Miami’s role players were able to punish them – especially Caleb Martin when Williams helped off of him.
Miami’s turnover issues in the second half of Game 4 and first three quarters of Game 5 haven’t been random, however. Boston has turned up their aggression, not sending obvious doubles but playing the gaps and swarming in the paint as they swiped at the ball to shake it loose. It many ways, they defended like Miami likes to defend, and as such 16 of the HEAT’s turnovers – ten combined from Adebayo and Lowry – were Boston steals, live-ball mistakes that turned into 27 points going the other way. At its best, that style of defense is incredibly difficult to read and decipher, which is why Miami has so favored it no matter what style of coverage they’re in. Now the HEAT know what’s coming, even if it’s always coming from a different angle, and it’s their move to adjust.
3. There are a few positives from this one. First, the zone continued to get Boston a little out of rhythm. It wasn’t a panacea by any means, but all series it’s been the stronger coverage when compared to Miami’s man-to-man in the half-court. The Celtics were still able to generate pretty good threes against that coverage, and the more they see of it the more comfortable they seem to get screening the wings and getting into the paint, but at the very least it slows the game down and forces Boston to work deeper into the shot clock.
Second, Haywood Highsmith was ready for the moment. With Gabe Vincent out due to an ankle sprain, Miami was going to need another body who could hold up on both ends of the court and Highsmith, as he often has been this year, stepped up – playing so well that Spoelstra started him in the place of Kevin Love in the second half. Highsmith again showed himself capable of handling one of the top two spots in the zone, flanking Caleb Martin as Vincent always does, as well as getting stops against elite scorers, even coming up with a steal on Tatum. Throw in a quick-trigger corner three and a couple decisive moves in the paint and the HEAT have to feel good about Highsmith moving forward.
Lastly, Duncan Robinson – not to mention Martin, who has been great all series – continued to cook. Boston goes after him on the other end, but Robinson is in the game to shoot the ball and space the floor and he’s checking every box, stayed composed when he gets downhill after being run off the line and even flashing his off-the-dribble game against switches.