NBA Eastern Conference finals Game 6: Celtics on verge of eliminating No. 1 seed Heat, punching Finals ticket

·4 min read

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

BetMGM Line: Celtics -8.5

The Boston Celtics claimed their first series lead in the Eastern Conference finals with Wednesday's win over the Miami Heat in Game 5. Jaylen Brown dropped 25 points and Jayson Tatum added 22 in the 93-80 win.

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The Celtics appear to be rolling after trading games with Miami early in the series. A Game 4 blowout set the stage for Boston's Game 5 win. Things appeared close early, but a third-quarter surge put the game out of reach in the Celtics' favor.

After two straight wins — both by double digit points — Boston looks poised to eliminate the Heat and head to the NBA Finals.

Here’s everything you need to know for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals:

1. Heat need to adjust after struggling from beyond the arc

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra looked at Wednesday's box score and immediately called out his team's struggles from beyond the arc. "That's not a very good three-point percentage," Spoelstra said after Game 5.

The Heat shot 15.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line in Game 5, a number that's especially concerning considering the Heat took 45 shots from 3-point land during the contest.

That's not the way the Heat have played the rest of the series. The team averaged 33.25 three-point attempts in the first four games of this series.

Erik Spoelstra with the Heat.
Erik Spoelstra was looking for answers after the Heat's loss in Game 5. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Heat's willingness to put up threes in Game 5 was a defensive strategy by the Celtics. Boston head coach Ime Udoka said the team's plan was to "stay locked up to the shooters and make the others score." The "other" members of the Heat failed to rise to the occasion in Game 5.

That puts Miami in a tough spot for Game 6. Those "other" Heat players either need to drain shots from beyond the arc, or adjust their offensive game plan to make sure their best 3-point shooters get cleaner looks.

2. Are the Heat healthy enough to force a Game 7?

The injuries are piling up in Miami. Kyle Lowry is battling a hamstring issue, Butler missed time in Game 3 due to a knee injury and Tyler Herro is expected to miss his third straight game with a groin issue.

Herro's absence has especially hurt the Heat. Herro averaged 20.7 points per game in the regular season and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, a skill the Heat desperately needed in Game 5.

More concerning are Butler and Lowry, who continue to play despite their injuries. Lowry has hit just one shot over the past two games and is looking like a liability on the court. Butler hasn't performed much better, going 7-for-32 over the past two games.

The Celtics, it should be noted, are also battling serious injuries.

Are the injuries finally catching up to the Heat, or has the Celtics' defense figured out how to neutralize Miami's stars? The answer is probably both, but the former makes it a lot less likely the Heat figure out the latter in time to save the series.

3. The Celtics are gelling at the right time

Everything appears to be trending in the Celtics' direction before Game 6. Brown and Tatum were masterful in Game 5, Robert Williams has a positive plus/minus in the four games he has played and the Celtics' defense made adjustments after the first three games of the series.

Perhaps this isn't a surprise. After a poor start to the season, in which the team went 16-19, the Celtics finished the regular season on a 34-12 run.

That second half performance made the Celtics considerable favorites to beat the Heat when the series began.

Games 4 and 5 have provided more evidence the Celtics have been the best team in the East for some time. If Boston can close out the Heat and continue to play at this level heading into the Finals, the Celtics absolutely have what it takes to win a championship.

Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart with the Celtics.
The Celtics look like the best team in the East. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)