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Celtics-Heat Is No Fun

Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat looks on ahead of Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter in Game Five of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals at FTX Arena on May 25, 2022 in Miami, Florida.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

At some point during the first half of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the lowest-scoring opening 24 minutes in a playoff game since 2014, I came to a realization: the Miami Heat-Boston Celtics playoff series is just not a good time for anyone. At the time of this epiphany, Miami looked to be in control of the first truly close period of first-half play in the series to date, and yet it felt like grinding teeth. A halftime score of 42-37 will do that to anyone, I suppose.

As this series crossed into the start of its high-stakes climax, there wasn’t even a nervous energy about watching it. It was more just dread, a foundation laid by the sloppy and one-sided play—displayed by both teams—throughout the first four games. It was a real “be careful what you wish for” kind of half; after everyone bemoaned the series’ lack of a close games, save for a brief Boston spurt in Game 3, the two teams came out in their Wednesday worst, turning the ball over a combined 13 times in that first half, while shooting a nightmarish 31-of-82 from the field.

Things got less fun for me, personally, after halftime, so I will only speak to the malaise that comes from watching the Heat go 4-for-24 in the third quarter to drop its aforementioned five-point lead into an insurmountable 11-point deficit by the end of the third. Whatever afflicted Boston’s offense in the first half—poor execution, Jayson Tatum’s shoulder pain causing his jumpers to fall short almost every time, Jaylen Brown becoming a human turnover machine—seemed to mostly dissipate after the break, while Miami’s own offensive woes kept holding them down. It wasn’t as pitiful a performance as the first quarter of Game 4, but it was close, and all the more demoralizing for having taken place at home.

From there, it was purely academic. Boston built its lead into the 20s—every game this series has had, at one point or another and for both sides, a 20-plus point lead—and though Miami made it somewhere in the vicinity of feisty towards the back end of the fourth, it never got close enough for the Celtics to truly worry about the result. The final score, 93-80, actually flatters Miami, and Boston rightfully has a 3-2 series lead and a chance to close out this distressing series at home on Friday.

There were cool moments, to be sure. Bam Adebayo’s putback dunk early in the first quarter was full of fire and thunder, posterizing both Al Horford and his own teammate Jimmy Butler in the process:

Jaylen Brown got one back on the other side, as the Heat cleared a launching pad for a vicious one-handed slam during Boston’s second-half dominance:

On the other side of the court, Robert Williams kept doing his thing, including blocking a Gabe Vincent three attempt after launching to the corner from the paint in an impossibly short amount of time:

By the end of the third, the game was essentially over, Miami damned by its own inability to sink three-pointers at anything close to its regular season league-leading 37.9 percent. On Wednesday, the team shot a Houston Rocketsesque 7-for-45 from downtown, and aside from a few good contests from Boston, those shots weren’t all that difficult, as far as three-pointers go. The Celtics didn’t do much better, shooting 30 percent from downtown, but they were able to get easier shots in and around the paint than Miami could against Boston’s very large defense. Butler and Kyle Lowry, especially, were not what the Heat needed; though both are hobbled by a variety of lower body injuries, their team can’t do much without them, so there they are in the lineup, trying and failing to provide any explosiveness and playmaking on limping legs.

As the series shifts to Boston for Game 6, I have given up hope that there will be a satisfying ending here. Whoever comes out of this melee should be a huge underdog to the Warriors—or, I suppose, the Mavericks, if they can complete the first 3-0 comeback in league history—in the Finals. They will be hobbled as hell; at this point it is easier to list which players on each team do not have some form of lingering injury. And they will have to figure out how to get back to what they do best on offense after a grueling six- or seven-game series.

I don’t know if Miami will be able to pull out another clutch win in Boston to send the game back home for Game 7, or if Boston will win three in a row against a floundering opponent. This series has defied all logic so far, so why wouldn’t it do that the rest of the way? What I do know is that I’m ready for it to be over.