Five takeaways from the Heat’s 93-80 loss to the Celtics, leaving Miami down 3-2 in these Eastern Conference Finals as the series heads back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday:
▪ The Heat’s inability to generate consistent offense in the halfcourt - and its stunning ineptitude from three-point range - remains its downfall in this series.
Boston’s defense, the best Miami has seen this postseason and among the best in the league, is a big reason why the Heat shot 30 for 90 in Game 4 and 30 for 94 in Game 5.
The Celtics have the type of size, length and defensive versatility unlike anything Miami encountered with Atlanta and Philadelphia.
But this is also a case of repeatedly missing makeable shots.
The Heat shot 7 for 45 on three-pointers, continuing a stunning regression for the NBA’s best three-point shooting team during the regular season.
Miami entered shooting 32.6 percent on threes in postseason, by far the worst of the four remaining teams and 13th among 16 playoff teams.
Many of the looks on Wednesday weren’t clean, but “we missed a lot of threes that we normally make,” Erik Spoelstra said.
After Miami’s starters shot a combined 1 for 10 on threes in Game 4, those same starters shot 2 for 22 on threes in Game 5. Max Strus was 0 for 7 on threes, Kyle Lowry 0 for 5, Jimmy Butler and P.J. Tucker each 1 for 5.
The Heat missed 38 three-point shots on Wednesday, second most ever in an NBA playoff game involving any team.
“We got shots in our wheelhouse most of the night,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat managed only five fast-break points, and Boston committed just five turnovers in the second half after committing 10 in the first half.
And when the game slows, and Miami must work for a shot in its halfcourt offense, it has usually been a struggle against Boston’s long, athletic wings and the skilled power-rotation tandem of Al Horford and Robert Williams.
Miami shot 2 for 13 when Williams was the closest defender on Wednesday, per Second Spectrum.
“Look, they’re a great defense,” Spoelstra said. “If we’re getting shots in our wheelhouse and miss some of those, you can’t reinvent things.”
▪ Injuries have left Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry not looking like themselves.
Neither would publicly cite injuries for their struggles - and shrugged off questions about health after the game - but it’s clear that they’re not 100 percent, Butler because of knee soreness and Lowry because of a hamstring that has seemingly limited or sidelined through much of the playoffs.
Asked if he might need to change course with Butler and Lowry limited, Spoelstra said no.
“There are guys far from 100 percent on both sides,” Spoelstra said.
Butler drove to the basket repeatedly and usually successfully before this injury, averaging 28 points per game in these playoffs before Game 4.
But since leaving for good at halftime of Game 3 - after Boston’s Payton Pritchard grabbed his knee minutes earlier - Butler has seemingly lacked the lift and off-the-dribble force that fueled his offensive game through two rounds and two games.
Butler too often settled for jumpers, and struggled to finish in the basket area when he penetrated. He shot 4 for 18 in Game 5 after shooting 3 for 14 in Game 4.
Boston’s defense certainly is a factor with that; Butler noted “there are three, four, five in the paint” typically.
Asked when he injured his knee, Butler said: “It doesn’t matter. I have to find a way to help us win. My knee is OK. I have to do better. No excuse.”
Lowry, who returned in Game 3 after missing four games in a row with the hamstring, went scoreless and finished 0 for 6 from the field, with no assists and three turnovers, in perhaps his worst game of the season.
In fact, it was the first game of his career in which he played at least 15 minutes and did not produce a point or assist.
Lowry’s numbers for the past two games: three points, 1 for 12 shooting, two assists and five turnovers.
He’s now shooting 16 for 60 in the playoffs and 8 for 39 on three-pointers.
Lowry described his play as “terrible.”
Asked about the hamstring injury, he said: “I’m out there, I’ve got to play better, being in right spot defensively, setting up guys offensively. I’ve got to play better.”
▪ The Heat’s starting lineup, one of the best in the league from a plus/minus standpoint before Monday, has been brutal the past two games.
Through the Heat’s Game 3 win on Saturday, the Heat’s starting five had shot 50 percent on three-pointers and outscored opponents by 69 points in 118 minutes as a quintet during the regular season and playoffs.
That starting five fell behind 17-1 in Game 4 and finished a minus 14 in that game.
In Game 5 on Wednesday, they were a minus five to start the game and a minus six to start the second half.
Spoelstra found magic for a good six weeks after replacing Duncan Robinson with Strus. But their extraordinary offensive roll has ended with a thud, largely because of the shooting struggles of both Butler and the starting guards in the past two games.
And this is not a misprint: the Heat’s starting guards (Lowry and Strus) made just one basket the past two games, combining to shoot 1 for 28 – 1 for 13 in Game 4 and 0 for 15 in Game 5. They’re a combined 1 for 19 on threes in those two games.
Lowry went scoreless Wednesday and Strus’ only four points came from the free throw line.
Their 0 for 15 shooting on Wednesday was the worst by a starting backcourt since the NBA started tracking this type of thing in 1970.
Butler, Lowry and Strus are a combined 8 for 60 over the past two games.
▪ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown rebounded from poor shooting first halves to erupt in the second half.
Tatum (1 for 9) and Brown (2 for 7) shot a combined 3 for 16 in the first half, their worst combined field goal percentage in any half this season.
They played like All Stars in the second half.
Brown scored 19 in the second half of 8 for 12 shooting to close with 25 points.
Tatum scored 18 in the second half on 6 for 11 shooting and to finish with 22 points.
I think once Jayson got going, [Brown] started becoming more aggressive, got off the ball,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Some guys are tough shot makers and [Brown] is one of them.”
But they impacted the game in other ways, too. Tatum had 8 of his 12 rebounds and four of his nine assists in the second half.
“We feel like there’s not a lot of people who can play basketball with us two,” Brown said.
Both were at the epicenter of a 24-2 second-half run that broke this game open.
“We stopped turning the ball over,” Brown said.
Brown capped a Boston burst with a windmill dunk, putting the Celtics up 89-71.
▪ With Tyler Herro out, Spoelstra tinkered with his bench, moving to a smaller lineup with mixed success.
Spoelstra bypassed using Dwayne Dedmon for the first time in these playoffs, instead playing 6-5 P.J. Tucker at center when Adebayo was resting.
With Tucker at center, Miami outscored the Celtics by five points in the first half.
That smaller lineup was outscored by two points in the third quarter.
Even with Victor Oladipo shooting 1 for 7 and Herro missing a second consecutive game with a groin injury, the bench wasn’t the problem.
Duncan Robinson (11 points, 4 for 12 shooting) continued to struggle from distance.
Gabe Vincent (15 points, 6 for 12 shooting) remains one of the wonderful stories of this Heat playoff journey. And Caleb Martin (seven points, six rebounds) gave the Heat energy, particularly in the first half.
But the Herro who scored 21 points per game in the regular season has been badly missed in this series. Even before the injury, Herro was 1 for 14 on threes in the first three games of this series and 16 for 41 (39 percent) from the field.
Herro shot 45 for 86 from the field in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals against Boston in the Orlando bubble.