Aggressive Adebayo, better Butler . . . or bust for the Heat against Celtics?

·4 min read

MIAMI — Sometimes it can be as simple as your best players have to be your best players.

For the Miami Heat, that wasn’t the case in Thursday night’s Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics in these best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. And now a case is building toward an unprecedented collapse.

Still, though, with time to make things right.

A corrective path that has to start with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

For Adebayo, the two losses that have dropped the Heat from a 3-0 lead to this tenuous 3-2 edge heading into Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. Game 6 at Kaseya Center have come with efforts from the Heat center far short of what is required.

In Tuesday night’s 116-99 Game 4 home loss, Adebayo closed with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, as passive as he has played this postseason. Then, in Thursday night’s 110-97 loss at TD Garden, there were only six points on 3-of-9 shooting at halftime, with 10 points added in what stood mostly as a meaningless second half, after the Celtics had pushed to an earlier 20-point first-half lead.

For Butler, Thursday night came off almost as a throwaway game, the 14 points by the second-team All-NBA forward his playoff low in what otherwise has been a postseason tour de force.

“They jammed us up,” was coach Erik Spoelstra’s takeaway from how the Celtics marginalized his leading men.

That meant active hands in the lane, lots of them, against Adebayo, who closed with six turnovers Thursday and now has 10 the past two games.

“It’s borne out of respect,” Spoelstra said of the added attention given Adebayo. “He was aggressive and able to get to the rim and able to get to his spots, so they have now made him operate in a crowd. That’s a good thing. That’s what great players usually command, is a second defender.

“I thought his decisiveness on a couple plays in the second half were key. He just needs to get into the rhythm of how they are defending him. We’ll see if we can get him in places where he can feel more comfortable to be able to get to his spot.”

Related Articles

As for Butler, the Celtics are making him begin his offense farther from the rim, requiring added effort to get to his sweet spots in an already draining postseason.

“Our offense was disjointed a little bit,” Spoelstra said. “We weren’t able to initiate our offense, get the ball where we needed it to go in spots where you could operate. If we can get Jimmy in his comfort zones and strength zones more consistently, he’ll be just fine.

“We’ll work on that the next 48 hours. But collectively, we do have to play with more intention and force and poise offensively, which we’re fully capable of doing,”

Typically, Spoelstra would minimize the focus on a specific player or specific duo. But with Tyler Herro (hand) and Victor Oladipo (knee) sidelined by surgeries this postseason, and with emerging Gabe Vincent missing Game 5 due to an ankle sprain, there are not many other places to turn. This is not the Celtics with the scoring depth of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Marcus Smart.

“The last two games are not who we are,” Butler said. “It just happened to be that way. We stopped playing defense halfway because we didn’t make shots that we want to make. But that’s easily correctable. You just have to come out and play harder from the jump.”

With Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry ineffective in Game 5, and with Max Strus off with his shot in the loss, avoiding becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series in the 151 times a team has had such an edge will therefore require dual focus.

Better Butler. Aggressive Adebayo.

“We all have to make sure that our two main guys are playing in their strength zones, and that’s on all of us,” Spoelstra said. “That’s on me and that’s on everybody executing with intention.”