It wasn’t pretty, but the Boston Celtics took the lead for the first time in the Eastern Conference finals and the Miami Heat faces elimination in a road game 6, less than 48 hours after another battle of attrition.
Neither team managed to find the net in the first half, but the Celtics unleashed a 24-2 run in six minutes, spanning the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the fourth. The avalanche turned the first back and forth game of the series into a fifth straight win. Boston’s highest-rated defense held Miami to 32% shooting from the field and 16% accuracy from 3-point range in the 93-80 win that titled a tying run.
Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 10 points on 16 shots in the first half, but all five tried to start the fourth quarter, including four three-pointers, to extend their lead to 83-60. Brown scored a game-high 25 points, and Tatum finished an assist shy of a triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists) to lead Boston in a game of its first Finals appearance since 2010.
“We just play basketball,” Brown told the ESPN broadcast after the win. “It’s the play-offs. One game you win. The next game, [Jimmy Butler] can come and score 40 points, so we just have to be great from game to game. This game only counts as one. We have to be ready for the next one.”
The Celtics, who are 40-4 in franchise history when they lead a series 3-2, host Game 6 on Friday. Boston fans will remember 2012, when the Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the conference final and lost to the Heat.
Both teams shot from the field below 40% and worse from the 3-point line in the first half. Miami scored 12 points on 10 Boston turns and 16 points on nine offensive rebounds — leading just 42-37 at halftime. It was ugly. On the bright side, the series saw its first leadership changes since the first quarter of Game 2.
Injuries didn’t help. Marcus Smart stumbled into the arena with a sprained ankle. Robert Williams III started on a surgically repaired knee. Tatum aggravated his shooting shoulder twice. Butler takes care of a swollen right knee and Kyle Lowry a strained left hamstring. Tyler Herro never saw the court with an injured groin.
Butler, Lowry and Max Strus, who was also doubtful with a hamstring injury that came into play and stumbled to the bench during the game, finished 4 for 33 from the field. They are 8 for 60 (13%) in the last two games.
“We make no apologies for anything,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after a second loss in a row. “We are not distracting. We are not making excuses. We lost the game today. We suffered a heavy defeat in Boston. We are still alive. We have the chance to play in front of a large audience [in a potential Game 7 on Sunday] and a chance to make a memory that you will remember for a long time. That’s all we’re thinking about right now, and we’ve got the type of warriors who are going to strap on, brace themselves, do whatever we need to do to prepare for the next one and just embrace and enjoy that competition. †
The Celtics started the third quarter with an 8-0 run and ended it with a 10-0 run to double down on the Heat and take a 69-58 lead in the fourth quarter. Miami missed 19 of its 23 field goals and 13 of 14 3-point shots in the third. The Heat couldn’t produce anything more than a few tough Gabe Vincent jump shots. Reserves Vincent, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin scored 33 of Miami’s 80 points that night.
Boston extended its lead to 23 early in the fourth quarter. Bam Adebayo reacted with eight straight runs for Miami, and a three-pointer from Vincent capped a 16-6 run that narrowed the deficit to 13 with 4:18 left. to go. Adebayo (18 points) and Vincent (15 points) were 14 for 27 from the field. Their teammates were 16 for 67.
The Heat couldn’t get any closer, as four more points from Brown and Tatum left nothing but waste time.
Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach