MIAMI — In three of the first four games of the Eastern Conference finals, the team leading at the end of the first quarter has come out on top each time.
So, as the Boston Celtics prepare to take on the Miami Heat in Game 5 here at FTX Arena Wednesday night, with the series knotted at two games apiece, the Celtics are aware they need to be zeroed in on a strong start to this game to come away with a desperately needed road victory.
“Whatever happened last game is last game, regardless if we won by 25 or 2,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said after Boston’s shootaround Wednesday morning. “They all count as one [win]. So we shouldn’t feel any better about ourselves because we blew them out [in Game 4].
“And I think we shouldn’t relax. We should kind of look at it as a new series and tonight is a must-win game. And I think when you approach something as a must-win and have more sense of urgency, especially to start, I think that’s how we should approach tonight and that goes in with the first five, six minutes of the game.”
For the past two rounds, dating back to the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics are now a pristine 5-0 when they lost the prior game. But, coming off of wins, Boston is a dismal 1-4, with their lone victory coming at home in Game 7 against Milwaukee.
If Boston is going to get out of this series and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, that is going to have to change — and the Celtics will have to win another game here in Miami, after winning Game 2 here last week.
In addition to starting the game off well, the other obvious difference in each game is Boston’s ability — or lack thereof — to take care of the ball. In the two Celtics victories, they’ve committed only a handful of turnovers. In the two Celtics losses, they’ve thrown the ball all over the gym, allowing the Heat to get one easy transition basket after another.
“I think we’re confident,” guard Payton Pritchard said. “We know what we have to do, take care of the ball, set the tone defensively, but we’ve been in this situation in the last series.”
“It just starts from the jump … it starts with our intensity. Every time we come off a loss, we play like our backs are against the wall. We got to take that mentality into every game, and obviously just take care of the ball. The games we lost, we had 39 turnovers. The games we won, we had 18 turnovers, so that’s a big difference.”
Boston is also waiting to see if both guard Marcus Smart and center Robert Williams III can play, as both are listed as questionable for a second straight game. Smart is still dealing with the right ankle sprain that held him out of Game 4, and Celtics coach Ime Udoka said he still has “pain, swelling and soreness” in the ankle ahead of Game 5 and that he will once again get treatment throughout the day leading up to tipoff before a decision is made on his status.
Williams, meanwhile, is also dealing with ongoing soreness, only his stems from the left knee that’s given him a variety of issues for the past two months. Williams had surgery on his meniscus late in the regular season, causing him to miss most of Boston’s first round series against Brooklyn, before Williams then missed three games in the Milwaukee series because of soreness stemming from a bone bruise.
He also sat out Boston’s Game 3 loss with soreness in that knee, before returning in Game 4 –though he appeared to be limping at times in the third quarter.
Like Smart, Udoka said Williams will receive treatment throughout the day before his status will be determined.