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 Game 6 on the road in less than 48 hours after another battle of attrition.
Neither team could find the net in the first half, but the Celtics went on a 24-2 run in six minutes covering the end of the first quarter and the start of the fourth. The avalanche turned the series opener into a lopsided fifth straight win. Boston’s top-rated defense held Miami to 32 percent shooting from the field and 16 percent 3-point accuracy in the 93-80 win that titled a tied streak.
Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 10 points on 16 shots in the first half, but they made their five attempts to start the fourth quarter, including four from 3-pointers, to extend their lead to 83-60 . Brown scored a game-high 25 points and Tatum finished one assist shy of a triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists) to lead Boston in a game of its first Finals appearance since 2010.
“We’re just playing basketball,” Brown told ESPN after the win. “It’s the playoffs. One game, you win. The next game, [Jimmy Butler] can go out and score 40 points, so we have to be great game after game. This game only counts for one. You have to be ready for the next one.”
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 took a 3-2 lead in the Conference Finals and lost to the Heat.
Both teams shot below 40% from the field and worse from the 3-point line in the first half. Miami scored 12 points on Boston’s 10 turnovers and 16 points on nine offensive rebounds — and led just 42-37 at the break. It was ugly. On the bright side, the series saw its first lead changes since the first quarter of Game 2.
Injuries didn’t help. Marcus Smart limped into the arena with a sprained ankle. Robert Williams III started on a surgically repaired knee. Tatum twice aggravated his shooting shoulder. Butler is nursing a swollen right knee and Kyle Lowry a strained left hamstring. Tyler Herro has never seen court on an injured groin.
Butler, Lowry and Max Strus, who was also questionable with a hamstring injury coming into the game and limping to the bench during it, finished 4 of 33 from the field. They are 8 for 60 (13%) in the last two games.
“We’re not making excuses for anything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after a second straight loss. “We’re not hijacking anything. We’re not looking for excuses. We lost the game today. We suffered a tough loss in Boston. We’re still alive. We have the opportunity to play in front of a great audience. [in a potential Game 7 on Sunday] and the opportunity to create a memory you will remember for a long time. That’s all we’re thinking about right now, and we’ve got the type of warriors that are going to strap in, get ready, do whatever we need to do to get ready for the next one and just embrace and enjoy this competition . “
The Celtics started the third quarter on an 8-0 run and closed it on a 10-0 run to overtake the Heat and take a 69-58 fourth quarter lead. Miami missed 19 of 23 field goal attempts and 13 of 14 3-pointers in the third. The Heat couldn’t manufacture anything beyond a few tough jump shots from Gabe Vincent. Reserves Vincent, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin scored 33 of Miami’s 80 points on the night.
Boston extended its lead to 23 early in the fourth quarter. Bam Adebayo responded with eight straight points for Miami, and a 3-point Vincent capped a 16-6 run that cut the deficit to 13 with 4:18 remaining. Adebayo (18 points) and Vincent (15 points) were 14-27 from the field. Their teammates were 16 for 67.
The Heat couldn’t come close, as four more points from Brown and Tatum left nothing but foul time.
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