Which team wins the all-important possession battle?
Part of what buoyed the Heat in the first three games of the series was their ability to create more scoring opportunities than Boston. Miami turned the ball over three, five and six fewer times than the Celtics in Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively. And even in Game 3, where Boston got up 17 more shot attempts, the Heat made it count by sinking 19 triples to the Celtics’ 11. (The story was similar in Saturday’s Game 6: Miami had 14 threes, whereas Boston had just seven.)
At this point in the series, the team with more shot attempts has won four of the six games. Yesterday very nearly made it five of six, until the extra shot that Derrick White created with a tenth of a second left.
The game-winning sequence essentially nullified the fact that the Heat won the turnover margin by seven, managed 15 more field-goal attempts in Game 6 and outscored the Celtics by 21 points from the arc. (A point worth noting: Saturday marked Boston’s worst three-point shooting of the entire season.) The loss certainly stings Miami badly, but if the Heat repeat certain aspects of Game 6—easier said than done, given that it was a home game whereas Game 7 will be in hostile territory—they’ll have a good shot at avoiding the wrong type of NBA history on Monday.
Who is able to flush Game 6 more quickly?
You could hear it in Erik Spoelstra’s post-game press conference: However difficult it might be to find the resolve after blowing a 3–0 lead—and a one-point lead in Game 6 at home in the final tenths of a second—the coach was imploring his team to dig deep for some.
Jimmy Butler, who came to life in the final period with 15 points after a dismal shooting performance through three quarters, nearly won it for his team after calmly knocking down three free throws. But it turned out to be for naught after Miami failed to block out. (Even if White hadn’t scored the putback on his side of the rim, somewhat incredibly Jayson Tatum appeared in good position on his side of the basket to have done the same.) So in Game 7, does Butler end up looking like he did in the first three periods, or the way he did during a dominant fourth?
The first three quarters—2-of-16 for just nine points—weren’t nearly enough from Butler, who several times failed to even look at the rim when he got the ball. And at 3-of-14 for nine points through three periods, big man Bam Adebayo was hardly any better. The Heat were 9-for-40 from the paint heading into the fourth period, an abysmal 22.5% mark that would’ve been the franchise’s lowest in the regular season or postseason dating back to 2008, per TNT.
On the flipside: The Celtics can exhale at having escaped Game 6—White appeared to have glassy eyes during his walk-off interview because of all the stirred-up emotions—but they’ll likely need more out of Al Horford, Grant Williams or both to complete the series comeback. Horford made an enormous block on Adebayo, but was a relative nonfactor offensively (2-of-6 for four points) for much of the game, and finished as the lone Boston starter in single digits. Williams, a Game 7 hero last season after his enormous showing against Milwaukee, shot 0-for-4 Saturday.
Will Tatum and Brown be better in the clutch?
If Boston is fortunate, perhaps the Celtics get a supernova performance from Tatum in Game 7, like they did last round against Philly. But if Game 7 goes down to the wire, will Boston’s stars rise to the occasion, or will we see more of what’s taken place throughout this series?
Just in case you need a refresher: Tatum, the fourth-place MVP finisher and first-team All-NBA selection, has shot 7-for-19 overall in fourth quarters and just 1-of-8 from three with as many turnovers (eight) as he has assists. Jaylen Brown hasn’t been any better: 8-for-22 in fourth quarters—including 0-for-10 from three—with five assists and four turnovers. Yes, a couple of the fourth quarters were somewhat uncompetitive. But taken together, it is somewhat incredible that Boston is on the cusp of making NBA history with its best players struggling so mightily during that stretch of the games.
You’ll remember that Tatum struggled mightily for long stretches of the Philadelphia series in the fourth quarter as well before busting out with a massive, season-saving fourth in Game 6. The difference here, at least for Tatum, would appear to be Miami’s pervasive use of zone defense.
Tatum has shot almost 47% this postseason, and turned the ball over just 10.5% of the time, against man defenses, according to Synergy Sports. That field-goal percentage number drops to 35% and the turnover rate increases to 14.8% when he’s facing a zone in the playoffs. Tatum shot just 1-for-6 in the final period of Saturday’s Game 6, while Brown shot just 1-for-3.
Miami, of course, isn’t shy about going to zone. This season, Spoelstra and the Heat utilized it more than any NBA team over the past 15 years, sometimes giving it a spin for entire quarters. Either way, it’s a different sort of challenge for offenses to contend with, and Boston’s superstar still seems unsure about how to attack it much of the time.
Regardless of how things shake out Monday night, we’ll have witnessed either a first-of-its-kind comeback, or a No. 8 seed—a play-in team that almost played itself out in that round—making it to the NBA Finals. And for basketball observers, it doesn’t get much better.