ORLANDO — What has become bizarre about this Celtics-Heat series is that, despite being on the verge of the NBA Finals and having made most of the key plays down the stretch in several games, the Heat enter Game 6 knowing they can play so much better.
They are shooting 30.1 percent from the 3-point line, 5 percentage points below their season average. For example, former Celtic Jae Crowder was shooting 41.6 percent from the 3-point line in the postseason following his 5-for-9 performance in Game 1. He’s been 6 for 33 since.
The Miami offensive struggles have only been camouflaged by their pristine play in the fourth quarters to steal games. Their three wins over the Celtics have come by just 11 points. The Celtics' two wins have come by a combined 24. So each team is entering Game 6 believing they haven’t played their best game in this series yet.
Or it could be said that a Heat team that played remarkably over the first few weeks of the postseason is leveling off. Jimmy Butler shot 24.4 percent from the 3-point line during the regular season and is 2 for 9 in the series, although both makes have been monumental.
It’s been offensive ineptitude that has forced coach Erik Spoelstra to keep a six-man rotation while occasionally sprinkling in Andre Iguodala, who is only on the floor to defend, or former Celtic Kelly Olynyk, who has played just 40 minutes in the series and missed 13 of 18 shots.
If the Heat are going to prevail, they’re going to have to rely on the players who are already playing major minutes. And despite each enjoying significant moments in the series, the duo of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro are each shooting below their regular-season 3-point percentage. Only big man Bam Adebayo has exceeded his regular season numbers in the series.
Spoelstra said he’s going to continue to push for his players to shoot those open 3s, sounding much like his counterpart Brad Stevens.
“They’re very good at defending the 3-point line,” Spoelstra said Saturday. “They’ve taken us off of some of our normal rhythm 3s. I think we’ve also missed some open ones. We just have to work more persistently to get the type of shots we want in our wheelhouse, which we’re very capable of, even against a very good defense like Boston.
“Our guys are extremely ignitable. It can happen just like that. But we have to do a lot more things defensively where we’re not just hoping that we make a bunch of 3s and a bunch of shots.”
The question is whether Spoelstra will make any drastic adjustment in Game 6. He has already unleashed his effective zone. He has already used the pick-and-roll with Adebayo repeatedly. He has been waiting for his shot-makers to make shots and they haven’t been consistent.
Spoelstra said when players such as Crowder are launching 3s, it’s good for the offense. But how long can he wait before those shots go down?
“No, it’s not necessarily about calling plays for him to shoot 3s,” he said. “But I love it when he shoots 10, 12 of them. It means our offense is functioning properly. But look, playoff series are tough. [Boston] is a good, quality team. Our game is deeper than us just making 3s or not. I know that’s probably what everybody is looking to right now, and that’s fair. They’ve done a good job of defending the 3-point line, as they’ve done all year long. They have really good habits there.”
And the Celtics also gashed the Heat in the paint in Friday night’s Game 5, passing up on 3-pointers in favor of getting inside for the higher percentage shot. Of the Celtics' 70 second-half points, 48 were scored in the paint or at the free throw line. The Celtics were just 6 for 22 from the 3-point line in that second half. But it didn’t matter.
“Yeah, they were able to basically get whatever they wanted,” he said. “They’re a dangerous team when they can see the ball go in the basket. They had some easy ones. Those are good for either team. They played great in that third quarter. We’re capable of big quarters, too. It’s a matter of doing it more consistently. This is great competition. This is what everybody wants, and we’re looking forward to [Sunday].”
It’s apparent Spoelstra is waiting for some type of offensive boost. Neither team has played their best game in this series. Will either in Game 6?
“Our guys are like a powder keg, our shooters,” he said. “They can explode at any time. We just have to make sure that we’re not building our whole game on whether we’re making 3s or not. It’s more sophisticated than that. But our guys can go off at anytime.”