Butler still confident ‘we will win this series,’ but Heat has problems to solve entering Game 6
Not much has gone right for the Miami Heat since taking a 3-0 lead over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics dominated Games 4 and 5 by a combined margin of 30 points to shake up the best-of-7 series.
But Jimmy Butler’s confidence remains unshaken.
“We are always going to stay positive, knowing that we can and we will win this series,” Butler said following the eighth-seeded Heat’s 110-97 loss to the second-seeded Celtics in Game 5 on Thursday night at TD Garden. “We’ll just have to close it out at home.”
Heat’s ECF lead down to 3-2 after Game 5 loss to Celtics. Takeaways, why Butler remains confident
The Heat will try to make Butler’s statement a reality, returning home for Game 6 of the East finals on Saturday at Kaseya Center (8:30 p.m., TNT) in its third of four close-out opportunities after taking a 3-0 series lead.
Saturday’s game includes high stakes for both teams. The Heat can punch its ticket to the NBA Finals with a win but will be forced to play a win-or-go-home Game 7 in Boston on Monday with a loss.
No NBA team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-7 series (0-150) and only three teams have come back from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7. The last time a team down 3-0 in a series forced a Game 7 was in the 2003 playoffs, when the Portland Trail Blazers dropped the first three games of a first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks before forcing a Game 7 that the Mavericks won.
Why does Butler remain confident the Heat will close out the Celtics to become just the second No. 8 seed in league history to advance to the NBA Finals?
“Because the last two games are not who we are,” Butler said. “It just happened to be that way. We stopped playing defense halfway because we didn’t make shots that we want to make. But that’s easily correctable. You just have to come out and play harder from the jump. Like I always say, it’s going to be all smiles and we are going to keep it very, very, very consistent, knowing that we are going to win next game.”
Playing harder is one obvious adjustment for the Heat, but there are plenty of other things Miami needs to figure out to win Game 6.
▪ The Celtics shot 40.5 percent from three-point range in the past two games after shooting 29.2 percent from deep through the first three games of the series, outscoring the Heat 102-51 from beyond the arc in Games 4 and 5. Miami has also put up just 55 three-point attempts to Boston’s 84 three-point shots in the past two games.
▪ The Celtics committed just 20 turnovers and forced the Heat into 32 total turnovers in Games 4 and 5. That has allowed Boston to outscore Miami 54-33 in points off turnovers in the last two games.
▪ The Heat’s starting lineup has been outscored by a total of 15 points in 17 minutes together during the past two games, forcing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to play Haywood Highsmith in Kevin Love’s place to open the second half of Game 5.
But arguably the most important issue the Heat must fix to end the series with a win is to get its leading duo of Bam Adebayo and Butler back on track. With the Celtics making the adjustment to throw extra defenders at Adebayo on his rolls to the basket and making a more concerted effort not to bite on as many of Butler’s pump fakes while also doing a better job of challenging him at the rim without fouling, Adebayo and Butler were underwhelming in Games 4 and 5.
“We all have to make sure that our two main guys are playing in their strength zones, and that’s on all of us,” Spoelstra said. “That’s on me and that’s on everybody executing with intention.”
Adebayo finished Thursday’s Game 5 loss with 16 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and generated no free-throw attempts. He also committed six turnovers and has totaled 10 turnovers in the past two games, as the Celtics have made it an emphasis to crowd Adebayo with multiple defenders when he’s in the paint in the past few games after opening the series by allowing Adebayo to operate in one-on-one situations.
“It’s borne out of respect,” Spoelstra said. “He was aggressive and able to get to the rim and able to get to his spots, so they have now made him operate in a crowd. That’s a good thing. That’s what great players usually command, is a second defender.”
Butler closed Thursday’s Game 5 loss with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from the foul line. It marked the fewest points he has scored and the fewest field-goal attempts he has finished a game with during this year’s playoffs.
“Our offense was disjointed a little bit,” Spoelstra continued. “We weren’t able to initiate our offense, get the ball where we needed it to go in spots where you could operate. If we can get Jimmy in his comfort zones and strength zones more consistently, he’ll be just fine. We’ll work on that the next 48 hours.”
As a result, the Heat was outscored by 35.6 points per 100 possessions in the 54 minutes Adebayo and Butler played together during Games 4 and 5. This is a dramatic reversal from the first three games of the East finals, when the Heat outscored the Celtics by 35.1 points per 100 possessions in the minutes Adebayo and Butler played together.
“I think they pack the paint really well, switching really well and just contesting shots without fouling,” Butler said of the Celtics’ defense.
The Heat needs to find answers quickly because the Celtics are just two wins away from making history. Preferably for the Heat, those answers will come in Game 6 because a loss on Saturday in Miami would not only add momentum to the Celtics’ side but also force a Game 7 in Boston.
Entering this year’s playoffs, home teams have gone on to win Game 7 of a best-of-7 series 75.9 percent of the time (110-35). Does that mean Game 6 on Saturday will feel like a Game 7 for the Heat?
“No, it will feel like Game 6,” Love said with a chuckle. “But they’re a hungry team. Being down 3-0 and getting a win at our place and getting a win here, you can tell they’re fighting for everything and clawing for everything. And now both teams are going to be doing that. We need to come out, have a great showing and set the tone at home.”
As the Denver Nuggets wait to find out which team they’ll face in the NBA Finals, the Heat remains confident that it will get the job done.
“Why would we lose confidence?” Adebayo said. “When we started this journey, nobody believed in us. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the first round. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the second round. And now we are here one game away. For us, we’ve always had confidence and that’s not going to go away.”