The Celtics and Heat are tied at 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the games haven’t been as close as the series score suggests. The Celtics’ two wins have come by an average margin of 22.5 points per game, while the Heat used a big third quarter in Game 1 and a big first quarter in Game 3 to build leads they never surrendered.
In addition to being comprised mostly of blowouts, the Eastern Finals have been marred by injuries. Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams have all missed at least one game in the series, while others – including Jimmy Butler – have either left a game early due to an injury or have been affected by various ailments throughout the series.
Still, for all its shortcomings, the series has been a compelling one, and it remains very much up for grabs heading into Wednesday’s Game 5. Miami holds home-court advantage and would host a potential Game 7 if it gets that far, but Boston has looked like the slightly better team through four games, posting a +7.7 net rating.
While the Celtics may have played a little better so far, the Heat’s defense gives them a chance almost every night, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link), who looks at some of the biggest questions that could decide the series.
As Lowe writes, Miami is still trying to solve Boston’s half-court defense, but has had success when forcing turnovers — the Celtics turned the ball over 39 times in their two losses, compared to just 18 times in their two victories.
The Heat have also done well when targeting Payton Pritchard and Derrick White and should rely more on that approach as they try to get Butler and Bam Adebayo going, says Lowe. Butler was just 3-of-14 from the floor in Game 4, while Adebayo scored 31 points in Game 3 but has scored just 25 in the series’ other three games.
Williams’ health will be a key factor going forward for the Celtics, Lowe notes, suggesting that if Boston’s starting center is unavailable, the team should lean on a frontcourt duo of Al Horford/Grant Williams before turning to Daniel Theis.
In the other frontcourt, the Heat are minus-19 in 38 minutes with Dewayne Dedmon on the court, but don’t have many other great options to spell Adebayo. Markieff Morris and Omer Yurtseven have been out of the rotation and P.J. Tucker – who is capable of playing small-ball center – has been dealing with injuries and isn’t at 100%.
With Game 5 less than 12 hours from tipping off, we want to know how you think the rest of the series will play out.
When we conducted our first poll on the Eastern Finals, the overwhelming majority of respondents predicted it would go at least six games, and most were betting on a Celtics victory. If you voted in that poll, has your pick changed, or are you sticking with your initial prediction? Do you see this series going the distance, or do you expect either the Celtics or Heat to win the next two games?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!