On Friday, the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 111-103 on the road in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, forcing a decisive Game 7 with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
“Game Seven,” the two greatest words in sports.
Despite having all of their players injured and having lost two straight games in this series after scoring 82 points and 80 points in Games 4 and 5, respectively, the Miami Heat were able to come out of Game 6 against the Boston Celtics with a 111-103 hard-fought road victory to tie the series at 3-3 and force one more Eastern Conference Finals game in Miami.
Given how out of this series they appeared over the last couple of games, the Heat’s grit and toughness all night was borderline miraculous. Defensively, the Heat dug deep in Game 6, and it seemed like every time the Celtics went on a small run, Miami had an answer for them.
This team’s answer was a big shot by Kyle Lowry or Max Strus out on the perimeter at times, but Jimmy Butler was the answer all night.
There are no words to describe Butler’s postseason performance other than elite.
Jimmy Butler scored a playoff career-high 47 points on Friday night, overcoming a lingering knee injury to lead his team to victory while facing elimination. This 47-point performance by the Heat’s All-Star was impressive not only because their season was on the line and their backs were against the wall, but also because Butler had only scored 27 points in the previous three games of this series going into Game 6 in Boston!
Butler finished the game with 47 points on 4-8 three-point shooting, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals, becoming only the second player in NBA Playoff history to have multiple 40-point, four-steal games in a single playoff series, joining the great Michael Jordan in 1988.
Jimmy G Buckets. And steals. pic.twitter.com/P8PLugqQDP
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 28, 2022
While it appeared that Boston was on their way to winning this series in front of their home fans, they will now have to board another plane and return to Miami for the third time in this series, where a potentially franchise-altering Game 7 awaits them.
Everything is on the line for both teams, and with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake, Sunday’s game should be exciting.
Looking back on Game 6, there is a lot to talk about before the series finale. Here are the three most important takeaways from the Heat’s win over the Celtics on Friday night.
Kyle Lowry’s Production Is The Difference For Miami
The Miami Heat needed every single one of Jimmy Butler’s 47 points in Game 6 with their season on the line, but Kyle Lowry’s play is what really helped elevate this team back to where we have seen them all year long.
Dealing with a hamstring injury that would likely sideline him for a few weeks if we were in the regular season, Lowry really stepped up on both ends of the court for Miami after some really poor performances.
The six-time All-Star had only played in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5 prior to Friday’s game and in those three games, Lowry had scored a combined 14 points on 5-23 (21.7%) from the floor and while he had a combined 8 assists, he also had 7 turnovers.
“I gotta play better, I’m playing terrible,” Lowry said following the Heat’s loss in Game 5. “It is what it is. I’m out there, so I gotta do a better job.”
In Game 6 on Friday, the veteran point guard finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists and just 2 turnovers, really making a difference for the Heat on both ends of the floor and stepping up when it mattered most in the series.
He was aggressive shooting the ball from the perimeter, putting pressure on Boston’s defense to close out to him and open up driving opportunities for Jimmy Butler in the lane, and Lowry’s efficiency defensively really bothered the Celtics’ tempo on offense.
Whether it was trying to draw charges or outmuscling his opponent on the perimeter, Lowry found ways to get under the skin of the Celtics, really helping fortify this already strong Heat defense.
While he may only be playing on one healthy leg, every positive minute Kyle Lowry can give the Heat in Game 7 is going to go a long way in them possibly making the NBA Finals this year. With Bam Adebayo struggling and Tyler Herro sidelined due to a groin injury, Lowry must continue to step up and be the complimentary All-Star Jimmy Butler need and the Heat acquired him to be.
Turnovers Led To The Celtics Losing
You can blame Boston’s loss on some questionable foul calls or missed shots, but at the end of the day, their sloppiness on the offensive end of the floor handed Miami this game on a silver platter.
Not only did the Celtics’ 18 turnovers result in quick scoring opportunities for Jimmy Butler and the Heat, but they also gave up a lot of scoring opportunities on their end on Friday night.
They finished the game with six fewer shots than Miami, and who knows, maybe two more shots would have resulted in two more three-pointers and a different game outcome!
Head coach Ime Udoka and the Celtics’ coaching staff must prioritize ball security heading into Game 7, especially since turnovers have been Boston’s Achilles’ heel in their three postseason losses to Miami.
Prior to Game 6, the Celtics turned the ball over 16 times in Game 1 and 24 times in Game 3, both of which were won by the Heat.
The Celtics are averaging 19.3 turnovers per game in their three losses, while they are averaging only 12.0 turnovers per game in their three victories.
That is a huge margin for just one series, and it is clear what the Celtics need to improve on. Of course, the Heat and their defensive efforts deserve credit for their three victories, but much of Boston’s carelessness stems from a desire to rush things.
Their patient offense and playing to their strengths have made them an elite-level team all year, which is why the Boston Celtics must take control of the situation and value every offensive possession they get in Game 7 on Sunday if they are to advance to the NBA Finals.
Health Will Win This Series
So much will happen in Game 7, and we should expect a back-and-forth game similar to what we saw in Game 6 in Boston.
However, player health will be a major factor in determining who wins this series, as both teams are currently dealing with key injuries.
Miami is missing Jimmy Butler due to a knee injury, Kyle Lowry has one good hamstring, a few of their role players are hurt, and Tyler Herro has not played since Game 3 due to a groin injury.
For the Celtics, Marcus Smart is still out with a sprained ankle, and Robert Williams III is still out with left knee soreness from a torn meniscus suffered in March.
Whoever has the higher pain tolerance and can give it their all will win this series, and for Miami, doing everything they can in the next day or so to get Tyler Herro on the court is critical.
His presence means a lot to Miami’s offense, especially since he was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year this season and finished second on the team in scoring behind only Jimmy Butler.
Given his ability to shoot from the perimeter, a somewhat healthy Herro opens up the floor even more offensively for the Heat and forces the Celtics to play a little more spread out defensively.
On the other hand, Robert Williams III has had a significant defensive impact for the Celtics all season and has been a high-level rim-protector in this series against Miami. Keeping him on the court, along with the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in Marcus Smart, is critical to the Celtics’ defense.
Injuries are something teams have to deal with at this point in the season through this many games, and for both the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, they could ultimately mean getting to or losing right before the NBA Finals.