The Miami Heat couldn’t pull off the sweep against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, so we’re headed for a Game 5 on Thursday night. The Celtics managed pull away late in Game 4 thanks to some efficient shooting from deep, and they’ll need to replicate that success if they want to extend this series any further.
Ahead of the action, here’s all you need to know for Game 5:
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Miami Heat Date: Thursday, May 25 | Time: 8:30 p.m. ET Location: TD Garden — Boston, Massachusettes TV channel: TNT | Live stream: TNT app Odds: Celtics -8; O/U 215.5 (via Caesars Sportsbook) Featured Game | Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat Powered by Caesars Sportsbook Moneyline Spread Total BOS -320 -8.5 -110 o215 -110 MIA +250 +8.5 -110 u215 -110 Storylines Celtics: Boston avoided total embarrassment by winning Game 4, escaping the sweep and staying alive for a few more days. Now they have a chance to extend this series a bit further, but it’s still an uphill battle for the C’s. Game 4 was a significant improvement from the blowout they suffered in Game 3, as all five starters scored in double figures, and they’ll need to bottle that performance as this series heads back to Boston. Jaylen Brown put together his first solid performance of the series, yet he still only finished with 17 points. Boston is still going to need more from him if they want to see a Game 6, otherwise the season could be over Thursday night.
Heat: The Heat still have a major advantage in this series, and after the Nuggets pulled off the sweep against the Lakers, you have to think that Miami wants to end this series as quick as possible to get some time off. But the Celtics showed Tuesday night that they’re not just going to roll over, so the Heat have to hope they get a better scoring performance out of Bam Adebayo and Max Strus, who combined for just 19 points. The team also struggled to connect on 3s, a surprising turn after they had been red hot all series long.
Prediction Miami didn’t pull off the sweep, so I’m picking them to pull off the gentleman’s sweep in Game 5. The Celtics punched back in Game 4, but I expect Butler and the rest of the Miami team to come out motivated to end this series and get a week off before the start of the NBA Finals. Pick: Heat +8
The NBA has a flopping epidemic on its hands, and in search of an antidote, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Thursday that the competition committee is “discussing [the] potential of in-game [penalties] for flops that would result in [a] technical foul free throw” and that “trial is possible at Summer League in July.”
If this were to come to fruition, it would be an unquestionably good thing. But would it be the best thing? I would argue no. Look, I’m all for anything to legislate even a modicum of the flopping out of the game, and we’ve seen the technical free throw serve as a major deterrent in the fight against “take” fouls, which were also destroying the entertainment value of the league and have, for the most part, gone away.
But as long as we’re talking about the entertainment value, or, put another way, the aesthetic appeal of the game, which is everything to this business model, do we really need another reason to stop the games and go to the review monitor?
If flopping is a problem, then so, too, are the constant play stoppages of a typical NBA game. A million free throws. A thousand timeouts. Reviews for flagrants and challenges and take and clear-path fouls. We need to be finding ways to keep the action going, not more ways to stall it. Through that prism, I would argue there is a much more effective deterrent to flopping than a technical foul that is going to require reviews.
Just don’t call the foul.
It’s that simple.
There have been suggestions on Twitter to police flopping after the fact. Go back and look at the tape and assess fines and potential suspensions accordingly. I don’t agree with that on its own. You’re going to have to throw out some seriously lofty fines out there to get the attention of a guy making tens of millions a season. But I would be all for adding potential fines and suspensions to a plan that begins, first and foremost, with erring on the side of ignoring flops on the court in real time.
Let’s see how long these guys keep flailing to the ground like they just stepped on a grenade if the whistle doesn’t blow and the game keeps going without them. Let’s see how stupid they look, and feel, when their teammates are having to cover for them because they’re laying on the floor.
Most importantly, let’s see how long guys keep flopping when it actually works against them getting the foul call they’re seeking. This is the key. Even if there is legitimate contact, flopping overrules the foul. Sorry. No call. Now you’re screwing with guys’ stats. You want to see a player adjust his game, start messing with his numbers when he actually should’ve been going the free throw line had he only played it halfway honestly.
Players, of course, would tell you they have to flop, because if they don’t then officials don’t call what are legitimate fouls. That’s fair. Officials have to be better. And it wouldn’t be easy, in some cases, to gauge in the heat of the moment when a guy going to the ground is real and when it’s theatrical.
But I’ll say this: Most times flopping is obvious. And when it’s not, the key is to err on the side of a no-call. If you go to the ground, if you snap your head back like you took a jab to the face, the evidence of a foul has to be overwhelming to get the call. If it’s questionable at all, you don’t get the whistle.
The clip below is the exact play I’m talking about. Make sure your volume is up so you can listen to the discussion between Jeff Van Gundy, who thinks it was a flop by LeBron James, and Mark Jackson, who thinks it was a legitimate foul.
Nuggets fan gave LeBron a towel after that flop 🤣💀 pic.twitter.com/XrYWlW7KU0
— Wu Tang is for the Children (@WUTangKids) May 19, 2023 In this instance, both guys are right. It was a foul, and LeBron did flop. What I’m saying is the flop needs to cancel out the foul. This way, when you flop, the only person you’re hurting is yourself. There is no question this would stop the flopping, and it would do so without having to stop the game. It would require officials to adjust their embarrassingly reactive and gullible wiring, and that would take some time. But, as they say, nothing worth doing is easy. And this is definitely worth doing.
Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is a man of few words. During his interview with Allie LaForce of TNT in between the third and fourth quarters of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night, he uttered just 10 of them. The first seven stood out.
“It just starts with our defensive identity,” Mazzulla said, when asked why the Celtics were the best version of themselves in a wire-to-wire, 110-97 victory over the Miami Heat, which kept their season alive and forced a Game 6 back in Miami on Saturday.
If you just scanned the box score, it may not seem like this was a defensive masterpiece by the Celtics, but the Heat’s 51.3% shooting from the field and 39.1% mark from 3-point land don’t tell the full story. Yes, they may have hit shots, but they never got into a comfortable rhythm because of the Celtics’ pressure right from the opening tip.
The Heat won that jump ball and tried to set up Bam Adebayo with a post iso on the right side of the floor. Only, Al Horford forced Adebayo to catch the ball all the way at the 3-point line, which meant the Heat big man had to put the ball on the deck in the middle of the floor to get to the basket. That was a bad idea with Marcus Smart lurking; the Celtics guard reached in for a steal, dove to secure the loose ball and found Jayson Tatum for a fastbreak layup.
“Physicality on the defensive end from the start,” Grant Williams said. “Smart set the tone the first play of the game, which set our defense up for the rest of the game and we gotta just continue that pressure.”
The Celtics were totally locked in.
Their pick-up points were in the backcourt or right at halfcourt. They were making the Heat work just to get into their sets, which they then had to start further away from the basket. Here’s a sample of four possessions from the first quarter.
celtics-game-5.jpg The Celtics were picking up the Heat early and making them work They built on their initial pressure by flying around off the ball and being smart with when and where they helped. Here’s a play late in the first half where Jaylen Brown jumps the passing lane for a steal and gets an easy fastbreak layup. That all happens because Smart is up on Caleb Martin early, which makes the initial pass out to the wing longer and more predictable, giving Brown the ability to time the steal.
In the third quarter, the Heat tried to post up Adebayo with Smart guarding him, so Horford shades down toward the paint and makes a hard double team. As Adebayo kicks out to Jimmy Butler, Derrick White has already slid over to the elbow to congest the lane Butler wants to drive into and gets the steal.
On the occasions when the Heat were able to get into the lane, the Celtics’ discipline and rim protection made things difficult. While the Heat did shoot the ball well overall, that was primarily on tough jumpers; at the rim they were just 17 of 26, a 65.4% mark that was below league average, and in the paint overall they were 26 of 47.
Just a few possessions in, White plays tremendous defense and goes vertical to force a Butler miss.
A few minutes later, Tatum does the same.
In the second half, White refused to bite on a Butler pump fake, then Tatum stands tall to contest a wild running layup from Max Strus.
“Yeah, D-White, second team all-defense this year for a reason,” Tatum said. “He’s a big part of our team, our identity, things we try and do on the defensive end. He’s a very smart basketball player on both ends, and his awareness, his instincts, they showed tonight.”
The Celtics do not have the same level of defense as they did last season, but they still finished second in the league in defensive rating and can dial it up when necessary. That’s just what they did in Game 5 with a brilliant display that perfectly blended energy and organization. The result was 27 points off of 16 turnovers, which included 13 steals.
And it’s that type of intensity that they’ll need more of in Game 6 if they want to become just the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after going down 3-0.
“We played with great intensity on defense, and I think we just set the tone from the jump,” Brown said. “We’ve got to be able to do that and carry that over into the next game. We have got to expect their best punch next game.”
Believe or not, the hard part is already done for the Boston Celtics. In NBA history, 150 teams have built a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series. Of those 150 teams, 136 went on to win their matchups in five games or less. That means that more than 90% of teams facing 3-0 deficits before the 2023 Eastern Conference finals got knocked out faster than the Celtics have. Historically speaking, teams trailing 3-0 almost never make it to 3-2.
But 3-2 deficits are nothing new to the Celtics. They overcame one last round against the Philadelphia 76ers. They did so a year ago against the Milwaukee Bucks. A 3-0 deficit is NBA history, but a 3-2 deficit is par for the NBA course. In all of NBA history, there have been 342 series in which one team trailed 3-2, and 55 of those teams went on to win the series. That’s a win rate of 16.1%. Not a big number by any means, but not the 0% historical fact of the deficit Boston faced just four days ago. Vegas gives Boston a much better shot than 16.1%. At Caesar’s Sportsbook, the Celtics current have a plus-118 line to win the series. Those are implied odds of 45.87%.
At worst, the Celtics have an outside chance to make history. At best? This thing is a coin flip. That notion defies eight decades of NBA history, so let’s dive into the teams that almost pulled off the impossible comeback and figure out what kind of chance the Celtics really have to win this thing and reach the NBA Finals for a second straight season.
The six-game losers NBA history has seen 11 teams turn a 3-0 lead into a 4-2 series loss. Those teams, in chronological order, are:
The 2022 Toronto Raptors, who lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. The 2015 Milwaukee Bucks, who lost to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The 2013 Houston Rockets, who lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The 2013 Boston Celtics, who lost to the New York Knicks in the first round. The 2010 Orlando Magic, who lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. The 2007 Chicago Bulls, who lost to the Detroit Pistons in the second round. The 2000 Philadelphia 76ers, who lost to the Indiana Pacers in the second round. The 1996 Seattle Supersonics, who lost to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. The 1962 Detroit Pistons, who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Division finals. The 1949 Washington Capitols, who lost to the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBA Finals. The 1947 Washington Capitols, who lost to the Chicago Stags in the semfinals. Let’s immediately rule out those last three teams for having played in a completely different NBA. The other teams all played within the past three decades. So what are our commonalities? There are two pretty big ones, and they make sense: only two of the eight series came in the last two rounds, and only one of the eight teams to fall behind 3-0 was the higher seed. All of this stands to reason. A series is typically likelier to be close later in the playoffs as the overmatched teams have been knocked out, and the team with the better regular-season track record is likelier to be the one building that 3-0 lead.
So how did those teams that built their 3-0 leads stumble? In most cases, we can point to a single, isolated explanation. Joel Embiid tore a ligament in his thumb during Philadelphia’s Game 3 win over Toronto in 2022. A dirty play by Patrick Beverley in 2013 ended with Russell Westbrook tearing his meniscus during Game 2 of that Thunder-Rockets series. The 2013 Knicks played Game 4 against Boston without their second-leading scorer, J.R. Smith, who got suspended for a Game 3 scuffle with Jason Terry. He returned for Game 5, but shot 3 of 14. The 1996 Sonics famously changed their defense going into Game 4 of the Finals against the Bulls, allowing hobbled Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton to guard Michael Jordan. Had they done so from the start, they might have won the series.
In other cases, the shift, and really the series as a whole, simply came down to a few bounces. The 2010 Eastern Conference finals were a perfect example of this. Games 1, 2 and 4 were all decided by four points or less — and all four were won by the road team. The two teams were relatively close all along, but the ball happened to bounce Boston’s way early in the series and Orlando’s way late. On a similar note, shooting luck frequently hampers superior teams. The 2000 Pacers shot 10 of 41 from deep in Games 4 and 5 against the 76ers after leading the league in 3-point percentage during the regular season. Sometimes good teams just get cold.
But generally speaking, a team that is good enough to build a 3-0 lead over a lower seed is usually good enough to win one out of their next three games even when they’ve stumbled for one reason or another.
The seven-game losers We’ve seen far fewer teams turn a 3-0 deficit into a winner-take-all Game 7. That has only happened three times in NBA history:
The 2003 Portland Trail Blazers, who lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. The 1994 Denver Nuggets, who lost to the Utah Jazz in the second round. The 1951 New York Knicks, who lost to the Rochester Royals in the NBA Finals. We will again ignore what happened in the 1950s to focus on the two more contemporary examples. The trends we covered above held here. Both the 2003 Blazers and 1994 Nuggets mounted their attempted comebacks in the first two rounds, and both did so as the lower seed. That last detail is critical. It means that for the Blazers and Nuggets to win Games 4, 5 and 6, they only needed to win on the road once. That made their task far more manageable. Both lost Game 7 on the road, which is the norm in the NBA, as home teams win roughly 80% of winner-take-all matchups.
The 2003 series between the Blazers and Mavericks was remarkably simple once you look at the box scores. The team that made more 3-pointers won Games 1-6. The Mavericks managed to buck this trend in Game 7 by hitting just seven long-range shots to Portland’s nine, but the Blazers shot a laughable 26 of 63 against an underwhelming Dallas defense inside of the arc to blow the game. The Blazers actually led Game 7 going into the fourth quarter, but lost the final frame by 14 points because three Dallas players got hurt. Nick Van Exel, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki combined to score 31 points in 11 minutes to seal the series for the Mavericks.
The Jazz-Nuggets series looks a bit more like the 2010 Magic-Celtics matchup. Games 3, 4 and 6 (the three games played in Denver) were all decided by a single possession. Utah won the first. Denver won the next two. Again, Game 7 came down to the stars. Karl Malone scored 13 more points than anyone else on the floor, and the Jazz won by 10 at home. John Stockton was also dealing with a thigh bruise he sustained in Utah’s first-round win over San Antonio, but he played in all seven games.
So, again, we have matchups that hit a couple of our key trends. The 2003 series swung on shooting variance. The 1994 series came down to a couple of bounces in close games. So what’s going on with the Celtics and Heat?
Why Boston can make history The Celtics already have a chance to buck one major trend here. Of the 10 modern era teams to go from 3-0 to 3-2, only one (the 2010) Magic, were the higher seed. The Celtics are the higher seed. If they can win Game 6 on the road Saturday, then two nights later they will become the first team in NBA history to go from a 3-0 deficit to hosting a Game 7.
Their own postseason suggests that have a strong chance of doing just that. The Celtics actually have a better road record this postseason (5-3) than home record (5-5). During the regular season, Miami’s home record (27-14) was barely better than Boston’s road record (25-16). The Celtics had a better net rating on the road (plus-3.3) than the Heat did at home (plus-1.1). All of this is to suggest that while the Heat may be at home for Game 6, their advantage is likely to be minimal. The road Celtics and home Heat are of fairly similar quality as teams.
Those regular-season numbers aren’t even fully accurate. The Heat are an entirely different team now. Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo are out. Breakout point guard Gabe Vincent missed Game 5, and his status for Game 6 isn’t clear due to a sprained ankle. The Celtics have injuries too, such as the torn tendon in Malcolm Brogdon’s arm, but it seems as though Boston has adjusted by shifting more minutes and shots to Marcus Smart and Derrick White.
Similarly, it’s worth wondering if Jaylen Brown might have dealt with some pain after seemingly dealing with a minor elbow injury chasing a loose ball in Game 1. He didn’t top 17 points in Games 2-4, and more importantly, shot just 2 of 19 from deep. In Game 5, however, he scored 21 points and made three of his five 3-point attempts.
Variance on 3-point shots has been one of the major themes of Miami’s postseason. The Heat ranked 27th in the NBA in regular-season 3-point shooting, making just 34.4% of their looks. They went on to make 45% of their attempts in their first-round upset over the Bucks, and then hit just under 48% in Games 1-3 against the Celtics. Boston, meanwhile, ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point percentage in the regular season by hitting 37.7% of their shots. But in Games 1-3, they hit 29.2% of their 3’s. This is especially important in this series because the Celtics took the second-most 3-pointers in the NBA during the regular season, but attempted the sixth-fewest shots in the restricted area. Their whole offense relies on making 3’s.
Extreme variance is baked into modern basketball. Shot diets are weighted so heavily towards 3-pointers that plenty of series simply come down to which team gets hot on the right nights. Ultimately, trying to predict whether that will be the Heat or the Celtics in Games 6 and/or 7 would be pointless. But the conditions for a comeback are in play in this series. Both teams are starting to play more like their regular-season selves, and for the first six months of the season, the Celtics were the far better team. If they can keep that up for two more games, they’ll have a chance to make NBA history.
The Miami Heat seemingly had the Eastern Conference finals won as recently as Sunday. When they won Game 3 against the Boston Celtics, they pushed their series lead up to 3-0. No NBA team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead, but the Celtics are making a strong push towards history with big wins in Games 4 and 5. Now the Heat are on the defensive, and they play their last home game of the series on Saturday when they host Boston for Game 6.
It’s a game the Heat fully expect to win. At least Jimmy Butler thinks so, as he guaranteed victory after Miami’s Game 5 loss. “We’re always going to stay positive knowing that we can and we will win this series,” Butler told reporters. “We’ll just have to close it out at home.”
Home teams are typically enormous favorites in any playoff game, especially those that come later in a series. The Celtics might present the rare exception. Boston has actually been better on the road this postseason (5-3) than it has been at home (5-5). Over the long regular-season sample, Miami’s home record (27-14) wasn’t much better than Boston’s road record (25-16), and the Celtics had a better road net rating (plus-3.3) than Miami’s at home (plus-1.1). The Heat will have the home-court edge in Game 6, but the numbers suggest that won’t be much of an advantage.
That was true last season, when these two teams met in the playoffs and the home team won only two of the seven games. That included Boston’s Game 7 victory on the road to clinch their trip to the NBA Finals. Of course, Butler nearly prevented that victory with two of the best games of his career to end that series. He scored 47 points in Game 6 to effectively create a one-game Eastern Conference championship a season ago, and then he nearly stole Game 7 with a 35-point masterpiece. He came one 3-pointer short.
Butler has been even better for much of this postseason, guiding a No. 8 seed to the brink of the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1999 Knicks made it all the way there. But Game 6 will present his toughest challenge yet. The Heat have lost two games in a row. They’re missing two key role players in Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, and Gabe Vincent may also be out after sitting for Game 5 with an ankle sprain. The onus is going to be on Butler to win this game for Miami, and if his post-game comments on Thursday were any indication, he plans to do just that.
Oh, what a difference five days can make. On May 21, the Heat pummeled the Celtics 128-102 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Now, after two consecutive double-digit losses, the momentum is all on Boston’s side, thus making Game 6 a must-win.
The Heat missed Vincent desperately in Game 5, as they turned the ball over 16 times with Kyle Lowry being the only healthy player capable of running the offense. Miami was constantly a step slow defensively as well, allowing the Celtics to find their stroke from 3-point range for the first time this series.
Lowry was abysmal in a spot start for Vincent, as he went 2-for-5 from the field to score five points, only one above his turnover total for the game. Bam Adebayo didn’t take care of the ball either, as he had a season-high six turnovers. Miami allowed the Celtics to shoot 41% from 3-point range after holding them to 32.5% over the first three games. Duncan Robinson was one of the lone bright spots for Miami, as the sharpshooter scored 18 points on 7-for-10 from the field and 2-for-3 from 3-point range, adding nine assists and four rebounds. Game 6 is slated for Saturday in Miami, and if one player is confident, it’s Jimmy Butler. Mr. Buckets had a quiet Game 5, recording only 14 points, five rebounds and five assists. That isn’t stopping him from calling his shot for Game 6, as Butler said after Thursday’s loss Miami “can and will win this series” at home.
Pavelski scores overtime game-winner vs. Golden Knights to keep Stars alive 🏒 Joe Pavelski Getty Dallas Stars Getty Images Down 3-0 in the Western Conference Final with their captain and another key forward out, the Dallas Stars could very well have packed Game 4 in and started their summer vacation early. Instead, Dallas prevailed 3-2 in overtime and has lived to see another game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Joe Pavelski scored the game-winner 3:18 into overtime, breaking what had been an ice cold stretch for the Stars as it relates to the extra period.
The Stars entered Thursday’s game 0-4 in overtime this postseason and 0-2 this series, a trend they’re happy to have broken. Pavelski’s game-winner marked his 30th power play goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, surpassing Alex Ovechkin for the most of any active player. At 38 years and 318 days, Pavelski is now the oldest player in NHL history to score an overtime game-winner in an elimination game. Dallas managed to defeat Vegas without captain Jamie Benn, who’s serving a two-game suspension for cross-checking Mark Stone in Game 3, and forward Evgenii Dadonov, who’s nursing a lower-body injury. Jason Robertson was critical to Dallas’ win, scoring two goals to give him four for the series and six for the postseason. He’ll need to come up big again for Dallas to force Game 6, as Benn will miss Game 5 in Vegas, which is slated for Saturday at 8 p.m.
Can Wander Franco, Bo Bichette challenge for the title of best shortstop? ⚾ Wander Franco Getty Tampa Bay Rays Getty Images From Corey Seager to Xander Bogaerts, MLB is loaded with shortstops who could make a case they’re the league’s best. Just where do rising stars such as Wander Franco and Bo Bichette factor into the conversation, though? CBS Sports’ MLB experts discussed that very topic in this week’s Batting Around.
Our Mike Axisa is highly confident Franco is the best long-term option, but for right now he’s going Seager over the likes of Carlos Correa and Trea Turner.
Axisa: “If we’re picking the best shortstop for the next 10 years, then I’d take Wander Franco, no questions asked. If we’re picking for just 2023, then I’d go Corey Seager. He’s been excellent (around his hamstring injury), he’s in his prime, and the skills suggest he should be a high-end performer all year. Carlos Correa and Trea Turner have struggled enough that I lean Seager.” Matt Snyder, meanwhile, is going young for his choice but is passing on Franco. Instead, Snyder is picking the ever improving Bichette.
Snyder: “Given his inconsistencies and injury history to this point, his recent slump makes me want to move off of him. To be clear, he’s already great and he’s going to get better. I’m only saying it gives me pause in saying he’s the best shortstop in baseball right now. Instead, I’ll stick in that division and say it’s Bo Bichette’s time. It’s his third full season and he continues to get better just about everywhere (significantly lowering his strikeout rate, for example). He has the foundation right now to make the leap into a high MVP finish (top five or even top three?).” What we’re watching this weekend 📺 (All times eastern)
Friday ⚾ Padres at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. on Apple TV+ ⚾ Rangers at Orioles, 7:05 p.m. on MLB.tv 🏎 NASCAR Truck Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway, 8:30 p.m. on FS1
Saturday ⚾ Dodgers at Rays, 4:10 p.m. on MLB.tv 🏒 Stars at Golden Knights — Game 5, 8 p.m. on ABC 🏀 Celtics at Heat — Game 6, 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Sunday 🏎 Indianapolis 500, 12:45 p.m. on ABC 🏎 NASCAR Coca-Cola 600, 6 p.m. on Fox ⚾ Phillies at Braves, 7 p.m. on ESPN