Here are eight thoughts on these Eastern Conference finals, as All-NBA first teamer Jayson Tatum and the Celtics head back to Miami for Wednesday’s Game 5 after tying this series at two.
1. Celtics center Robert Williams was hobbling late in the third quarter of the Game 4 romp Monday night. He continues to deal with left knee soreness, and the Celtics have alternated between saying it was caused by a bone bruise suffered in the semifinals and that some swelling and tightness is to be expected after his meniscus surgery March 30.
Regardless, it seems clear Williams is not going to be fully healthy during the rest of these playoffs, and the Celtics will have to manage that. He said he felt “great” after Monday’s win, but by the end, it certainly didn’t look that way. Maybe Williams would have sat out the fourth quarter anyway, but the blowout helped ensure that he wouldn’t make the issue worse.
Williams and Marcus Smart were both listed as questionable for Game 5 on the team’s injury report released Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday morning, coach Ime Udoka sounded somewhat ominous.
“You never know until the next day or two,” he said. “A lot of times the second day, which is obviously game day, is where he has some of the pain. But he only played 18½ [minutes]. But he played 19 in Game 2 [and then missed Game 3].
“So we truly don’t know until today when he lets us know how he feels, tomorrow as well. With swelling and pain, it’s literally day to day. Hopeful for the best, but never know how his body responds to it.”
Williams had two blocked shots Monday and he made the Heat change their minds about plenty of others.
2. Here’s more evidence of Williams’s impact: During 67 minutes with him on the court in this series, the Celtics have outscored the Heat by 23.2 points per 100 possessions. During 46 minutes with his replacement, Daniel Theis, on the floor, Boston has been outscored by 45.7. Just a point differential of 68.9. No big deal.
3. Game 1 of the Finals will be next Thursday. And barring an epic collapse by the Warriors, who entered Tuesday night with a 3-0 lead over the Mavericks, it will be played in San Francisco.
If the Celtics win the conference finals in seven games, the series would conclude late Sunday night in Miami. That would at least give them a couple of days to regroup and recover, but once you add in the three-hour flight home from Miami and a six-hour flight to San Francisco, it’s not very much time, especially with Williams and Smart nursing injuries.
Just more motivation for the Celtics to end this thing in six.
4. Shout-out to TNT for having its games tip off within a couple of minutes of scheduled start times. It’s brutal how the ESPN/ABC games start a full 15 minutes after the announced tipoff. And it’s even more glaring with later starts in this series, where 8:30 becomes 8:45. Time for bed, kids!
5. There’s been almost no carryover from game to game, but the Heat are hopeful that they can pull at least one thing from their grisly Game 4 performance: Victor Oladipo and Duncan Robinson came off the bench and combined to hit 8 of 15 3-point attempts.
Oladipo, whose playing time increased with Tyler Herro out with a groin injury, actually helped keep Miami afloat before everything truly fell apart.
Robinson’s work was mostly done during garbage time, but he is the superior shooter of the two, and his mini hot streak probably will earn him a chance to continue it.
As long as he does not absolutely catch fire, though, the Celtics probably wouldn’t mind seeing Robinson out there. After checking in Monday, he promptly fouled Tatum on a 3-pointer and committed another foul because he was late chasing a loose ball. Tatum had little trouble blowing past him, too.
At times, the Heat switched to their trademark zone defense with Robinson on the floor, and the Celtics battered them on the offensive glass.
6. Smart was listed as questionable for Game 4, and the Celtics said he would test out his sprained ankle in warmups to determine whether he could play. But about an hour before tipoff, I saw Smart walking gingerly down a hallway in the bowels of the arena wearing a sweatsuit, looking nothing like a player who had a chance of suiting up. Stay tuned.
7. The Celtics will need to win in Miami at least once more to advance to the Finals, but this prospect is hardly daunting. They’re 5-2 on the road in these playoffs, and during their Game 2 win in Miami, they had a significant cheering section.
8. ESPN reported that Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens wanted to speak with Michigan coach Juwan Howard about the team’s head coaching opening last summer, but Howard turned down the overtures.
Stevens’s interest could have been cursory; he reached out to plenty of strong candidates early in the process. Regardless, the Celtics are certainly fine with how things turned out. Udoka finished fourth in voting for NBA Coach of the Year, and he has his team two wins from the NBA Finals.