LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Boston poured in 16 three-pointers in a dominant 110-97 victory over the Miami Heat on Thursday that kept the Celtics alive in the NBA championship chase.
For the second straight game, the Celtics fended off elimination, cutting the deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals to 3-2 with the wire-to-wire triumph.
Miami will get another chance to close it out when they host game six today. The Celtics will be trying to take one more step toward becoming the first NBA team to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
“The only thing that can stop us is us,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said in an on-court interview.
Before a rapturous, raucous crowd at TD Garden in Boston, the Celtics looked every inch the favourites they were before the series started – before the upstart eighth-seeded Heat grabbed the first two games in Boston, then embarrassed the second seeds in game three.
Four Celtics starters scored more than 20 points, with Derrick White leading the way with 24 on a night when he made six of eight attempts from three-point range.
“Got some good looks and was able to knock them down, and just kind of rolled with it,” said White, who said the Heat’s defensive focus on Brown and fellow star wing Jayson Tatum gave him more room to operate.
Marcus Smart added 23 and had five steals while Brown and Tatum scored 21 apiece.
More importantly, the energetic Celtics harried the Heat into 16 turnovers that led to 27 Boston points.
They had 17 second-chance points compared to Miami’s seven.
“Tonight we were the tougher playing team,” Brown said. “We set the tone from start to finish.”
Boston was locked in on both ends of the floor from the opening tip-off, roaring to a 23-7 lead in a matter of minutes.
After Tatum was whistled for a technical foul with 8:43 in the first quarter, the Celtics responded with three consecutive three-pointers.
Tatum scored 12 points in the first quarter and Brown took over with 12 in the second.
Meanwhile, Heat talisman Jimmy Butler struggled to get going, scoring eight points in the first half and finishing with 14 – his lowest-scoring game of the playoffs. He sat out most of the fourth quarter.
Duncan Robinson led the Heat with 18 points off the bench. Bam Adebayo scored 16 points but coughed up six turnovers.
Kyle Lowry starting at point guard after Gabe Vincent was ruled out with a sprained ankle, scored five points with four turnovers.
“We’ve just got to play better,” Butler said. “Start the game off better, on the starters, make it more difficult for them.
“They are in a rhythm since the beginning of the game,” Butler added. “But we are always going to stay positive, knowing that we can and we will win this series. We’ll just have to close it out at home.”
Butler said the Heat allowed their shooting struggles to affect their defensive intensity.
“But that’s easily correctable,” he said. “You just have to come out and play harder from the jump.”
The Heat, who won the NBA title in 2006, 2012 and 2013, still only need one more win to reach a seventh NBA Finals.
Boston, whose 17 NBA titles are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most in history, last won it all in 2008 and came up short in last season’s championship series against the Golden State Warriors.
The winners of the series will play the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets, who swept the Lakers in four games to reach the NBA Finals for the first time.
White said the Celtics expect a formidable challenge in Miami today.
“The crowd is going to be in it. It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to take 48 minutes of battling, scratching, clawing, and we’ve got to find a way to win.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was unconcerned that two big defeats had demoralised his team.
“Who cares about mood?” Spoelstra said. “We have a gnarly group. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals.”