It’s surprising the Miami Heat even won one of the last two games in Boston when considering the free-throw disparity.
During Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden, the Boston Celtics shot 55 of 68 and the Heat shot 20 of 28 from the foul line. The Celtics scored 35 more points and drew 40 more free throws than the Heat in those two games.
The Celtics outscored the Heat 23-12 at the foul line in Game 3 on Saturday, but Miami was able to overcome it to win 109-103 by attempting 22 more field goals with the help of 24 Boston turnovers. But the Heat couldn’t make up for the disadvantage at the foul line on Monday, as Boston outscored Miami 32-8 at the charity stripe to win Game 4.
“I guess sell it more,” Heat guard Victor Oladipo said when asked how the team can increase its free-throw numbers entering a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., ESPN) at FTX Arena, with the series tied 2-2. “Continue to keep attacking and putting pressure on them and the refs. Hopefully we can get some of those calls.”
Playing a more aggressive offensive style looks to be the obvious solution to the Heat’s lack of free throws. But the numbers say Miami and Boston got into the paint a similar amount of times in Games 3 and 4, with the Celtics totaling 85 drives to the basket and the Heat totaling 84 drives in those two games, according to NBA tracking stats.
The issue for the Heat is a foul was called on just 2.4 percent of its drives in the last two games compared to the Celtics drawing a foul on 8.2 percent of its drives during that span. That resulted in Boston generating 15 free throws off its drives and Miami generating just four free throws off its attacks in Games 3 and 4.
Heat star Jimmy Butler, who has been battling right knee inflammation, attempted just two free throws in the last two games. That’s an eye-opening number after he averaged eight free throws per game in the regular season and took 18 free throws in Game 1 of the East finals.
Butler drew 5.7 fouls per game in the regular season. The Celtics were called for a total of only three fouls on Butler in Games 3 and 4.
“I think we just got to be more physical,” Butler said Monday night, noting that he felt the Heat settled for too many outside shots despite what the numbers say. “When you shoot a lot of jump shots, which we tended to do tonight, it’s hard getting to the free-throw line. I think we have to be more of a forceful-type team, getting into the paint, not shying away from contact and playing from the inside out. Whenever we do that and not shoot as many jumpers, we might get fouled a little bit.”
The Heat must also simply commit fewer fouls. Miami was called for 50 fouls, including 25 shooting fouls, in Games 3 and 4.
That’s an average of 25 fouls committed per game during that stretch, up from the Heat’s regular-season average of 20.5 fouls committed per game.
“[We have to] figure out the way they are calling the game and adjust to that,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said following Game 4. “I feel like that took away — sending them to the line, that took away a lot of our physicality.”
The Heat is hoping to be at full strength for Game 5 on Wednesday.
The Heat listed Tyler Herro (left groin strain), Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain), Max Strus (right hamstring strain), P.J. Tucker (left knee irritation) and Gabe Vincent (left hamstring strain) as questionable for the contest. The good news for Miami is that Butler is not on the injury report after he missed the second half of Game 3 on Saturday because of right knee inflammation.
Herro was the only player who missed Monday’s Game 4 loss because of his groin injury. But Lowry has sat out eight of the Heat’s 15 playoff games because of his strained hamstring.
ESPN reported on Tuesday that Herro’s groin injury would keep him out for two to four weeks in the regular season, but he’s pushing to play through the pain.
“Injuries are a part of this,” Adebayo said. “It’s a part of playoffs. You learn to adapt. We’re one of those teams, we’ve had so many injuries throughout the season that you know we’ve learned how to win. Guys being out, guys playing half, guys playing 20 minutes in the game, just depends. You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
The Celtics listed starters Marcus Smart (right ankle sprain) and Robert Williams (left knee soreness) as questionable for Game 5 in Miami. Smart missed Monday’s Game 4 because of his ankle injury and Williams missed Saturday’s Game 3 because of his knee soreness.
Sam Hauser remains out for the Celtics because of right shoulder instability.