Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Eastern Conference Finals has those who long for the days of physical, 1980s no-layups-allowed NBA basketball in a state of euphoria. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are engaged in a best-of-seven tug of war that has come down to a survival of the fittest contest. They played Game 5 last night in Miami tied at 2-2. No team has been able to establish a clear advantage although the eye-test reveals the Celtics have a clear margin in collective talent, notably offensively. 

The Heat was committed to playing more intensely and urgently in Game 3 in Boston after getting blown out at home 127-102 last Thursday in Game 2. The result was a 109-103 road win.   

“In the previous game, as everybody noticed, they beat us like we stole something,” said Heat center Bam Adebayo following a 31-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 3. 

“That should wake everybody up. Getting beat at home like that, that says it all.” 

The Heat’s cogency didn’t carry over to Game 4. The Celtics opened a 26-4 lead in the first quarter and won going away 102-82. Adebayo epitomized the Heat’s offensive inconsistency, attempting just five shots and scoring an inconsequential nine points in the loss. 

“Just got to muster that same energy when we came off a win as well as a loss,” maintained the Celtics’ first-year head coach Ime Udoka. 

“This is a three-game series now. Can’t always just flip the mindset when we come off a loss and get a little desperate.”

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who scored a quiet 10 points shooting 3-14 in Game 3, imposed his will in Game 4, dropping 31 on a highly efficient 8-16 from the field and 14-16 from the foul line. 

Arguably the most substantial factor that will decide the series outcome is injuries to both teams. Celtics center Al Horford missed Game 1—a Heat victory—in the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols.

Guard Marcus Smart missed Game 1 (foot) and Game 4 (ankle). And center Robert Williams III was sidelined for Game 4 with left knee soreness. 

For the Heat, guard Tyler Herro didn’t suit up for Game 4 due to a groin injury. Forward Jimmy Butler was out for the entire second half of Game 3 with right knee swelling while guard Kyle Lowry has been slowed by a strained left hamstring and didn’t play in Games 1 and 2. 

Additionally, guard P.J. Tucker has been bothered by left knee irritation and guard Max Strus is fending off a hamstring strain. 

“It’s a part of playoffs. You learn to adapt,” said Adebayo after Game 4. “Guys being out…

You’ve just got to find a way to win.”

Game 6 will be in Boston on Friday and Game 7 Sunday night in Miami if necessary.

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