It will be the Miami Heat’s chance to turn the tables in the Eastern Conference finals when they play host to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 on Wednesday.
While the series is tied 2-2, it has been anything but a close matchup on a day-by-day basis. Three of the four games have been decided by a double-digit winning margin, including Game 4 on Monday at Boston when the Celtics rode their defense to a 102-82 victory.
The Celtics’ domination came just two days after dropping a 109-103 decision in Game 3, and at home, no less. When Boston fell in the series opener last week at Miami, it was by a 118-107 score.
Both teams were without key players Monday, but the Heat were more out of sync without NBA Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro (groin). The Celtics still were able to do some high-level defending without the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart (ankle).
“You know, sometimes when you have two really competitive teams, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a one-point game,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It means that it can be flammable either way. Both teams are ignitable. Whatever they have done to us, we can do to them.”
If the Heat get burned for a consecutive game, it will leave the Celtics one game from advancing to the NBA Finals with the series shifting to Boston on Friday.
“I think obviously it’s 2-2, so it’s kind of like a new series, best of three,” said the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, who scored a game-high 31 points in Game 4. “I think just having a conversation that I think human nature plays a part in, when you win a game you can relax a little bit. But obviously when we lose a game, we feel like the next game is do or die.
“I think we have to have that mindset going into Game 5, that it is a must-win game, because (Monday) was essentially something like that.”
Tatum has averaged 24.3 points in the series along with 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists. In 15 games during the playoffs, he has put up 27.2 points with 5.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.
But just as Tatum had an off night in Game 3 with 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting, leading to a Celtics defeat, Heat star Jimmy Butler was held to six points in the Game 4 defeat, also on 3-of-14 shooting. Butler scored 41 points in Miami’s series-opening victory, but had just 14 points combined over the two games at Boston on 6-of-22 shooting.
In seven home games during these playoffs, Butler has scored fewer than 21 points just once. It will be Butler’s turn to shine, especially if Herro is unavailable again.
“I don’t think we need to worry about individuals,” Butler said after Miami’s starters combined for 18 points in Game 4. “I think we need to figure out how to win as a team. That’s the most important thing, how to get stops as a team, how to score as a team and continue to do everything as a team.”
Herro, Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Max Strus (hamstring), Gabe Vincent (hamstring) and P.J. Tucker (knee) are all listed by the Heat as questionable for Wednesday. Smart and Robert Williams III (left knee soreness) are questionable for the Celtics.