The Boston Celtics were able to keep their season alive with a 116-99 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. With the series heading back to TD Garden, what do Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the rest of the Celtics need to do in order to extend this series? I discuss three key points for Boston heading into Game 5.
1. Put Jayson Tatum in Positions to Exploit the Defense
Jayson Tatum was phenomenal in Game 4, going for a game-high 33 points on 14-for-22 shooting, 4-for-9 shooting from three, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Celtics gave him the freedom to initiate the offense in moments, a decision that benefited the entire team. Miami failed to cover the forward in those exchanges when he was the primary ball handler, allowing him to get downhill with ease. Tatum made all six of his field goal attempts inside the paint.
The 25-year-old was the driving force in Boston’s 18-0 run at the beginning of the second half, putting the Celtics ahead by nine just over midway through the third. Early in the fourth quarter, Kyle Lowry made a shot from about four feet to make it a five-point game. With the momentum starting to shift in favor of Miami, it was Tatum who kept Boston in the driver’s seat. The Celtics responded with a 12-0 run, all but ending the Heat’s chances of a comeback.
Tatum went for 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting, 3-for-5 shooting from three, five assists and a 27 +/- just in the second half of Game 4. Miami could do a few different things to frustrate the Celtics star in Game 5, although doubling him more often seems like the most likely option. The Heat may use Jimmy Butler as Tatum’s primary defender right from the jump, something we have yet to see in this series.
If Miami forces Tatum to be more of a playmaker and less of a scorer, it will be important that Tatum does not force things. Taking tough shots with two or three defenders on him is exactly what the Heat are looking for. As long as he is able to avoid that, the Celtics should be in good shape on their home floor. Tatum may not go for 33 and 11, but even if he is efficient and impactful on both ends, this series should return to Miami for a potential Game 6.
2. Play With a Sense of Togetherness on Both Ends of the Floor
In the first three games of the series, the Celtics went through stretches where the five players on the court were not on the same page. Boston failed to make the extra pass, left three-point shooters too wide open, and didn’t attack the glass as one unit, etc. The Heat took advantage of Boston’s mental lapses, and just like that, Miami had a 3-0 lead in the series. Joe Mazzulla needed to challenge his team to improve on that, which they certainly did Tuesday night.
The Celtics ball movement was much better in Game 4, getting 28 assists on 43 field goal makes. Tatum and Jaylen Brown still had moments where they played in isolation, but more often than not, Boston made three or four passes before a shot went up on any given possession. That is what it takes to efficiently score against a defense as strong as Miami’s. If the Celtics are willing to trade a good shot for a great shot, they may be able to continue extending this series.
In the same way, Boston’s defense in the second half of Game 4 shows what they are capable of on that end of the floor. The Heat scored a total of 43 points on 35 percent shooting and 18.8 percent shooting from three in the third and fourth quarter. Miami was able to remain close because of their ability to draw fouls, shooting 12-for-15 from the line in the second half. Otherwise, the Celtics could have won this game by 20-25 points.
Boston had the second best defensive rating (110.7) in the league throughout the regular season. The Celtics have individuals who are known for their defense, such as Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III. Miami has found ways to have success against them, time and time again in this series. If Boston can replicate what they did defensively in the second half of Game 4, the momentum may begin to shift.
3. Win the Battle on the Interior
Bam Adebayo has continued to play at a high level after his dominance in the Heat’s second-round series victory over the New York Knicks. His physicality on the glass along with his ability to handle the basketball is one of the biggest reasons why Miami has had so much success in these playoffs. That level of play was showcased in Game 1-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but not in Game 4.
The 25-year-old struggled to impact the game on Tuesday night, finishing with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and a -21 +/- in 35 minutes. The combination of Al Horford and Williams III gave Adebayo problems, which had yet to be seen. With the series going back to Boston, that should be something the Celtics look to replicate.
With Tyler Herro and now Gabe Vincent out injured, Adebayo’s importance for the Heat significantly rises. Butler is incredible, but Miami cannot leave it all up to him to close out this series. Otherwise, the Celtics are going to continue to win and give themselves a certain level of confidence that will become tough to crack down on. If Horford and Williams III are able to keep Adebayo off the offensive glass and limit his impact as a playmaker, that dramatically changes the trajectory of this series.