The Celtics found a way to beat the Heat in Game 5 by eliminating their biggest problem in the series: crunch time. Blowing out the Heat in the third quarter ensured there would be no tight game to worry about late as they sustained the momentum and double-digit advantage. The same was true about the C’s other win this series (Boston lead by 16 with five minutes left against Miami in Game 2).
Boston’s Achilles heel emerged yet again in Game 6, though, just as the Celtics were nine minutes away from forcing a Game 7 against the Miami Heat, holding a six-point lead after opening the fourth quarter with a 10-2 run. In order to get past the Heat, the C’s would need to put their crunch time demons behind them and execute late.
Instead, the Celtics saved their worst late-game play of the year for Sunday night, watching as their season was taken from them with a 26-6 run by the Heat over the next six minutes of play. When the dust cleared, the Celtics were facing their first double-digit loss of the postseason and first as a team since February 11th (34 games). Miami shot 56 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range, both playoff-highs for a C’s opponent as they posted a postseason-high 125 points in regulation.
After the game, Brad Stevens heaped praise on the Heat for dominating the crunch time play.
“Miami deserves a lot of credit,” Stevens said. “They’re super physical, super tough, very, very savvy. And I think they’re the best team in the East and deserve to be representing the East the way that they’ve played.”
However, amid a fourth quarter in which the Celtics failed to get a stop on 10 consecutive Heat possessions at one point, it was jarring to see a top-5 defensive team in Boston put together a bottom-three outing for the season on that side of the floor. The late struggles began in the Toronto series (Game 3 and Game 6 late blown leads, a near collapse in Game 7) but rose to a different level in the 4-2 loss to the Heat.
The Celtics were outscored by 28(!) points in 19 crunch time minutes during the series spread across five games. Here's a statistical breakdown of those woes for Boston offensively in those 19 minutes:
31 percent shooting (9/29)
7 percent from 3-point range (1/13)
That ugly perimeter shooting was the story of Boston’s fourth-quarter offense in Game 6. After drilling 11 3s in the first half, the C’s went 4-of-23 in the second half from beyond the arc. They missed some good midrange looks early in the fourth quarter but quickly devolved into early shot clock 3-point heaves to try to match Miami’s hot scoring in the fourth-quarter run. Good ball movement largely vanished as the C’s fell into the temptation of 3s against Miami’s 2-3 zone was too much. It was a gamble that paid off for Miami as the C’s went cold late.
“I don’t think we were pressing,” Kemba Walker said of Boston’s late shots. “I thought we got some really good looks. Just, they didn’t drop. Whenever we did miss, those guys they brought it back with great pace and made the plays and that started it up. That was the big difference. They made the plays and we didn’t.”
The bigger story of the game for Boston late though came on the defensive end. The Heat scored 26 points in a six-plus minute stretch in the fourth quarter to win the game, including the aforementioned 10 straight scores that turned things from tight to a blowout in the final two minutes of the series-clinching win for Miami.
Once again, it was the same story for a Heat team that was able to put up points when it mattered. Here’s a look at how well Miami’s offense executed in crunch time over just 19 minutes, posting a