In the fourth quarter of a win-or-go-home game for them, the Boston Celtics cranked up their defensive ball pressure. Grant Williams was getting run and gave them more athleticism inside, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown were being aggressive on the ball, and Boston rose that pressure to a 96-90 lead. The Celtics looked like they would live to play another day.
Then Bam Adebayo took over.
He relentlessly went to the glass and seemed to own every rebound. Then he just started attacking downhill when he had the ball.
Combine that with rookie Tyler Herro not knowing he is supposed to wilt in big moments, and Andre Iguodala stepping up in big games as he is known to do, and the Heat went on a 24-6 run. Boston completely melted down on offense and started to try to make up their 7-10 point gap with one shot.
Miami was better in the clutch and with that earned a trip to the NBA Finals. The Heat won Game 6 125-113 to take the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2.
The NBA Finals, a high-powered matchup where LeBron James gets to face the team with whom he won his first title, begins Wednesday night.
Adebayo was the most frustrated of the Heat players after their Game 5 loss on Friday.
“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been.”
Adebayo’s teammates said that wasn’t true, but what mattered most on Sunday was Adebayo believed it and stepped up — 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting plus 14 rebounds.
“Bam’s one of the great competitors already in this association,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “He’s going to become one of the great winners in history just because he’s so competitive. He moves the needle in every single way.”
Most of this game between two of the better defensive teams in the bubble was all about the offense.
After missing a handful to open the game, the Celtics couldn’t seem to miss from three, at one point hitting 11-of-22 from deep. Marcus Smart was 4-of-8 from deep at that point, and when his shot is falling the Celtics are a threat. Jayson Tatum hit some too, but more importantly he was setting the table as a playmaker and that had Boston’s offense clicking. That and they had solved the Miami zone defense.
On the other side of the ball, Miami shot 56.1% as a team in the first half and Iguodala started 4-of-4 from three.
After three quarters it was 88-86 Miami, and it seemed like the side that found any defense first was going to win.
What Miami found was Bam Adebayo.
“They were just more aggressive,” Boston’s Marcus Smart said of the difference in the fourth. “They were getting whatever they wanted. Got to the free throw line, down the lane, open shots. That’s part of it. Unfortunately, we didn’t combat it. We didn’t respond the way we should have.”
For Boston, they took a step forward this season but showed they need more athleticism and depth inside, and they need to have Gordon Hayward healthy. While he returned from his sprained ankle and was on the court plenty, he wasn’t moving and scoring the same way by Game 6. Against Miami, Boston needed vintage Hayward.
“This is just our first year together,” Kemba Walker said postgame. “This is going to be a fun group the next couple of years…
“I learned a lot just about the intensity of the playoffs. Every possession matters so much, things switch from game to game.”
The Celtics learned from those experiences.
The Heat are about to learn what the NBA Finals are like.