The Eastern Conference Finals feature two of the best defensive teams in the NBA, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. The series has been gruesome for the most part, with both teams doing their best to implement their defensive game plan and make the other side struggle to get any offense. Through five games, the Celtics are beginning to win this war of attrition.
Miami shot just 31.9 percent from the field in Game 5, including a paltry 15.6 percent on three-pointers. They struggled to get open looks all night long, and even when they did, they typically ended up missing them anyway. It led to a typically impassioned rant from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith after the game:
“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how great or putrid your defense is, if you can’t make shots, anybody can beat you, and that was the Miami Heat tonight. They resembled a bunch of construction workers, looking like they were throwing bricks all over the damn place.” - Stephen A. Smith, ESPN.
Smith provides a perfect analogy for the Heat’s offense in Game 5
Sometimes Smith can get a bit carried away with his colorful commentary, but he’s spot on here. The Heat had absolutely nothing going for them on offense all night long. They took 23 more shots from the field than the Celtics last night, but it didn’t matter because Boston still made three more field goals than them. In a series that has featured some ugly offensive outings, Miami’s performance in Game 5 was the worst of them all.
In a way, it makes sense. Both sides are struggling with injuries, but it’s becoming clear it’s taking a massive toll on Miami. They were without Tyler Herro for the second straight game last night, and guys like Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and P.J. Tucker are playing at less than 100 percent. They have been no match for Boston’s stingy defense without their expected offensive contributions.
How the Celtics are slowing down the Heat on offense
Smith’s construction worker analogy works for the Heat because the Celtics force them into so many tough shots. But how have they managed to do it so consistently in Games 4 & 5 after letting Miami run wild early on in the series?
Sometimes, the best defense starts on offense, and that’s been the case for Boston. They struggled with ball security in the first half of Game 5, turning the ball over ten times. They cut that number down to five in the second half, and they unsurprisingly ran away with the game.
Miami makes their money by outworking their opponent, and that’s what they did in the first half of this game. They forced turnovers, made hustle plays, and constantly came up with offensive rebounds.
But when they cannot do that, the Heat are in big trouble. When Boston gets back and sets up their half-court defense, Miami has had practically no offense to speak of. Most of their first-half points came from Boston turning the ball over or offensive rebounds. It wasn’t even a contest once the C’s cleaned up their act in the second half.
When the Celtics limit their mistakes and don’t give the Heat free points, the Heat have struggled to score points. Boston is building a path to the Finals on the back of Miami’s bricks, and with another subpar shooting outing from them in Game 6, the Boston Celtics could finally complete that path.