BOSTON—The Miami Heat insist they are as confident as ever, even after missing two chances to eliminate the Boston Celtics.
They will get the next one, Jimmy Butler said.
“It’s going to be all smiles,” Butler said after the Celtics won 110-97 on Thursday night to cut the Heat’s lead in the series to 3-2. “We are going to keep it very, very, very consistent, knowing that we are going to win the next game.”
The Heat are headed home with still two more chances to clinch a spot in the NBA Finals. But they would be wise to do it in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night and avoid a decisive seventh game in Boston.
The eighth-seeded Heat won the first three games – two of them in Boston – to put the defending Eastern Conference champions on the brink of elimination. None of the other 150 teams in NBA history to fall behind 3-0 have come back to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
But the Celtics won Game 4 in Miami by 17 points and then led by as many as 24 in a Game 5 victory that was Boston’s first home win over the Heat all season. Center Bam Adebayo, who had 16 points and eight rebounds — but also six turnovers — said Miami was still confident it could finish off the Celtics.
“Why would we lose confidence?” he said. “When we started this journey, nobody believed in us. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the first round. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the second round. And now we are here, one game away. For us, we’ve always had confidence, and that’s not going to go away.”
Butler, Miami’s emotional leader and the star of Games 1 and 2, scored only 14 points on Thursday night — his lowest total in this year’s postseason — and went 1 for 5 in the first quarter when Boston opened a 15-point lead. Miami played all but the first five minutes of the game trailing by double digits, and only got as close as 10 with one minute to go after a meaningless 9-0 run.
“The last two games are not who we are,” Butler said. “We’re always going to stay positive, knowing that we can and we will win the series. We just have to close it out at home.”
To do so, Miami will have to respond from a blowout — just the way Boston did after a Game 3 loss that left players openly questioning rookie coach Joe Mazzulla.
Asked about his team’s mood, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said: “Who cares about mood?”
“We have a gnarly group,” he said. “I think so much of that is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals. One game doesn’t lead to the next game. … It doesn’t matter if you lose by whatever. We beat them by whatever in Game 3. It just doesn’t matter.”
With Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo out all series and Gabe Vincent joining him on the sideline Thursday night because of a sprained ankle, Miami did get contributions from its bench — including 15 points from forward Haywood Highsmith, who hadn’t played meaningful minutes in the first four games. Duncan Robinson had 18 points and nine assists, while Caleb Martin had 14 points to help the Heat bench outscore Boston’s 53-15.
Spoelstra’s message to the team: “Just to really not forget this,” Robinson said. “Shift our focus to Saturday. Let this sting, just do what it takes to maintain that edge that we play our best with.”
Image credits: AP