NBA Playoffs Update: Celtics Take Control Over Miami as the Heat Continue to Flame Out

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NBA Playoffs Update: Celtics Take Control Over Miami as the Heat Continue to Flame Out

Chicago Bulls

Miami is on its last leg, literally and figuratively, after a Game 5 loss to the Celtics at home.

Celtics 93, Heat 80

Series: BOS leads 3-2

The NBA Playoffs are, among other things, a battle of attrition. You have to win 16 games to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. That journey could include up to 28 games in addition to the 82 regular season games already played. Sometimes it just comes down to who can withstand the grind. This Eastern Conference Finals series is a perfect example of such.

Boston hasn’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The series itself has been pretty boring and uneventful, with five largely non-competitive games played thus far. But, Boston is winning the war of attrition. The Miami Heat look like a team running on empty right now, and Boston is taking advantage of it. Celtics head coach Ime Udoka knows that his team’s style of defense wears on opponents as the series lengthens.

“I think the mental stress and strain we put on some teams with our defense has worked and carried us through the playoffs at times,” Udoka said. “You saw in the Brooklyn series. Guys started to wear down. Game 7 (against Milwaukee), [Giannis] Antetokounmpo slowed down some. But having all those bodies to continue to throw at people wears down on them physically and mentally, making it tough. As long as we don’t give them easy baskets in transition, with our guys, we’re always confident they’ll get it going and figure it out eventually.”

Jimmy Butler and the Heat led the Celtics by five at the half, but Miami ran out of gas. The Heat shot 1-of-14 in the third quarter, and Boston doubled the Heat scoring output winning the quarter 32-16 to take a 69-58 lead into the fourth quarter. Butler finished the game with 13 points and shot a dismal 4-of-18 (22 percent) from the floor, and got to the line just four times. Butler has refused to use his knee injury to excuse his string of poor performances. While that’s noble, it’s also not true. The knee injury visibly hampers Butler.

Butler is averaging 9.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 25 percent shooting while only averaging two trips to the charity stripe over his last three games. Before that stretch, Butler averaged 29.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.2 and assists on 54 percent shooting while averaging nine trips to the charity stripe per contest. Butler can deny the impact of the injury; it’s clearly a significant issue and possibly the end of the line for Miami in these playoffs.

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra echoed the “no excuses” sentiment that the Heat have after Wednesday night’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics:

“We are not making excuses for anything. We are not deflecting anything,” Spoelstra said. “We lost the game today. We had a tough loss in Boston. We’re still alive. We have an opportunity to play in front of a great crowd and an opportunity to make a memory that you’ll remember for a long time. That’s all we’re thinking about right now. And we have the kind of warriors that are going to tape up, brace up, do whatever we’ve got to do to get ready for the next one, and just embrace and enjoy that competition.”

Butler isn’t the only one dealing with an injury affecting his performance. Kyle Lowry is dealing with a left hamstring issue that has hampered him the entire postseason. Lowry played 25 minutes last night, scored zero points, and logged zero assists. The 36-year-old guard missed all six of his shots (five from three-point range) and turned the ball over three times. Max Strus is banged up. Strus scored four points last night, all at the free throw line, while missing nine shots, seven of which came from range.

Over the last two games, Strus and Lowry have shot a combined 1-of-28. Strus has missed his last 16 shots. These guys are hurt, and it’s catching up to them. There’s no doubt about it at this point. Miami can refuse to use their injuries as an excuse, but they won’t have to do it much longer while they now sit on the brink of elimination heading into Game 6 in Boston tomorrow night.

Here are the highlights from last night’s Boston victory courtesy of NBA.com’s YouTube channel:



Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.