MIAMI — Even though the Celtics gave back home-court advantage in the conference finals by splitting a pair of games back in Boston, they were never really concerned. They were the NBA’s most dominant road team this season, and the trend has continued in the playoffs.
And after staying afloat during a mostly miserable first half for both teams Wednesday, Boston walloped Miami in the second and rolled to a 93-80 win that gave it a 3-2 series lead. The Celtics will have a chance to advance to the NBA Finals at TD Garden on Friday night.
Jayson Tatum had 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists for the Celtics and Jaylen Brown scored a game-high 25 points. Both players shook off sleepy starts and closed with power.
The Heat shot 31.9 percent from the field and made just 7 of 45 3-pointers (15.6 percent).
Miami held a 42-37 halftime lead, but given the extreme struggles of Boston’s stars, it felt like a missed opportunity. Sure enough, the Celtics started the third quarter with an 8-0 run and did not stop there, outscoring the Heat, 56-38, after the break.
Observations from the game:
▪ Brown showed improvement as a ball handler this season, but there is no question that he has regressed in that area during the playoffs. The Heat seemed to be welcoming him to attack, and time and again he’d start probing and quickly get into trouble. The Heat would poke the ball away or Brown would handle that part for them. He just didn’t look comfortable.
But Brown would not let that first half define him. He ignited Boston’s second-half run operating farther from the basket, draining several 3-pointers with a hand in his face. It was an important and needed bounce-back.
▪ The first half felt sort of like a preseason game. Players from both teams fired up open jumpers that clanged off the rim, and there was no real rhythm to either offense.
▪ Marcus Smart returned after missing Game 4 because of an ankle sprain. He appeared to be moving OK but didn’t have his general burst in the first half. He committed two early fouls — both thanks to some crafty maneuvers by fellow grafter Kyle Lowry — and sat for the rest of the opening quarter and then had little impact in the second.
▪ One positive result from Smart’s foul trouble was that it got Derrick White into the game a bit earlier, and he was one of the only Celtics with a pulse on offense in the first half. White’s really good at getting into the lane and firing up a floater from a seemingly awkward angle, just as his momentum is carrying him past the hoop. He was 5 for 6 from the field in the opening half and the rest of the team was 8 for 38.
▪ Tatum suffered a shoulder stinger in Game 3, but he and coach Ime Udoka have insisted that he’s fine. But he tugged at that right shoulder several times during his forgettable first half, when he was just 1 for 9 from the field. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s a real issue or convenient timing, because the most obvious examples of him reacting to his shoulder took place after bad plays.
▪ Tatum, Brown, and Smart combined to go 3 for 19 from the field with seven turnovers in the first half. Boston had one scoring drought that stretched for a little less than five minutes. The Heat missed a chance to extend their lead beyond 5 points heading into the break, and that became more obvious when the Celtics needed just 95 seconds to start the third quarter with a 9-0 run.
▪ But Miami’s half-court offense remained a mess, too, and coach Erik Spoelstra seemed aware of it. On missed 3-pointers by the Celtics, he implored his players to ignite their transition game as quickly as possible. Although the Celtics committed 10 first-half turnovers, they surrendered just 2 fast-break points in the first half. They generally did well slowing down those dangerous live-ball opportunities.
▪ Boston’s defense was good, but it wasn’t as good as Miami’s awful offense made it look. The Heat fired up one errant 3-pointer after another, plenty of them open looks. The mess could be best summed up by one third-quarter sequence in which Victor Oladipo got consecutive looks from the left arc, and both slammed off of the backboard without even grazing the rim. Yuck.
▪ Grant Williams started the third quarter in place of Robert Williams, and there was some concern when Robert Williams, who has been battling knee soreness, was not even on the bench. But he came out a few minutes later and entered the game soon after. Udoka was probably just looking for some floor spacing after a sloppy first half.
▪ The Celtics got into the penalty early in the third quarter, and that’s generally been a good formula for them in this series. And it was much-needed in this spot. They attempted 11 free throws in the quarter. They also committed just one turnover, helping them stretch their lead while also keeping the Heat out of transition. They took a 69-58 lead to the fourth.
▪ Heat fans were begging Bam Adebayo to attack when he had a smaller defender on him, most often Grant Williams. But Williams is strong and sturdy and really held his ground in the matchup. He did a particularly good job of forcing Adebayo a few feet farther from the hoop on the catch.