Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I take back what I said Wednesday. I think the Celtics are going to do it. (And a quick programming note: We won’t have a newsletter Monday because of the holiday, but we’ll be back on Tuesday … maybe after a Celtics-Heat Game 7.)
In today’s SI:AM:
🎾 Carlos Alcaraz’s time to shine
🏈 The best (and worst) backup quarterbacks
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It’s officially time for the Heat to start feeling nervous.
After the Celtics earned their second straight comfortable victory last night in Game 5, 110–97, the series is headed back to Miami for Game 6 tomorrow night.
It’s funny how simple the key to the Celtics’ success is. When they shoot the ball well from behind the arc, they win. After bricking shot after shot in the first three games, Boston won Game 4 thanks to better shooting and then shot 41% as a team from three-point range last night as it won easily again. Jaylen Brown, who was 3-for-25 from three in the first four games, finally found his shooting stroke and made three of his five three-point attempts last night. Derrick White went 6-for-8, and Marcus Smart went 4-for-6.
When the Celtics are playing to the best of their ability like that, the Heat need everything to go right if they’re going to be competitive. But they turned the ball over more often than Boston did (16 times to the Celtics’ nine), and, while the rebounding margin was basically equally (37–36 in favor of the Celtics), the Heat managed just seven second-chance points, compared to 17 for Boston. Miami had no second-chance points until the middle of the fourth quarter, when the game was already essentially decided.
Don’t discount the Celtics’ defense, either. Boston has now held Miami under 100 points in two consecutive games after the Heat failed to score 100 in just one previous game this postseason.
You have to give rookie coach Joe Mazzulla a ton of credit for helping to engineer this turnaround. After Game 3, he admitted that there was a disconnect between himself and his players and conceded that he didn’t know how to fix it. But he’s been great over the past two games, Chris Mannix writes:
Most of Boston has had him cleaning out his office by now. There were calls for Mike Budenholzer. For Nick Nurse. Even a reunion with Doc Rivers. But Mazzulla had the Celtics ready to play in the second half of Game 3. He had them energized from the start of Game 4. “One of our assistants put it in great perspective,” Mazzulla said. “The season [is] like nine months long, and we just had a bad week.” When TNT cut to a Boston huddle, Mazzulla could be heard urging the Celtics to be more physical. Each player made eye contact with him and nodded his head.
The pressure on the Heat in Game 6 is going to be immense. They need to take care of business at home, or else they’ll be facing the prospect of a Game 7 back in Boston against a far more talented team in what promises to be a raucous arena. No team in NBA history has recovered from a 3–0 series deficit, but the Celtics are making it look increasingly possible. The Celtics, with their improved shooting and more cohesive defense, are trending upward. The Heat, dealing with yet another key injury after Gabe Vincent missed Game 5 with an ankle issue, are headed in the opposite direction.
The Heat still need to win only one more game, but it’s hard not to feel like the Celtics are in the driver’s seat. They appear to have shaken off whatever was holding them back in the first three games and, as long as they can keep it going tomorrow night, would be heavy favorites at home in a potential Game 7. Boston dug itself a deep hole with its struggles early in the series, but now it’s Miami that should be feeling nervous.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal missing, this year’s French Open represents an opportunity for tennis’s next generation to seize the spotlight, Jon Wertheim writes in today’s Daily Cover.
- Emma Baccellieri has a preview of the NCAA softball super regionals, which continue today.
- Gilberto Manzano ranked every backup quarterback in the NFL from worst to best.
- The Raiders’ backup QB will get some extra reps after Jimmy Garoppolo underwent foot surgery.
- Lions receiver Jameson Williams addressed his gambling suspension for the first time.
- Tickets for this weekend's Indy 500 are still available, and entry to the greatest spectacle in racing won't necessarily break the bank.
The top five...
… things I saw last night:
5. Victor Wembanyama’s highlight reel from his French playoff game.
4. Charles Barkley’s attempt at a Boston accent.
3. Joe Pavelski’s one-timer in overtime to win the game for the Stars and avoid a sweep.
2. Virginia catcher Kyle Teel’s fearless job blocking the plate.
1. Aaron Judge’s pregame workout with his dog.
Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell was known for hardly ever striking out, but on this day in 1930, White Sox starter Pat Caraway became one of only two pitchers to strike out Sewell twice in one game. How many strikeouts did Sewell finish the 1930 season with?
Yesterday’s SIQ: Of the teams participating in this weekend’s Division I men’s lacrosse Final Four, which one has made the most NCAA tournament appearances?
- Penn State
- Notre Dame
Answer: Virginia. This is the 42nd tournament appearance for the Cavaliers, who participated in the first NCAA lacrosse tournament in 1971. They rank third on the all-time list of tournament appearances behind Maryland (45) and Johns Hopkins (48). Notre Dame is making its 26th appearance, and Duke is making its 25th, while Penn State is making just its sixth appearance. The Nittany Lions also reached the Final Four in 2019.
Penn State’s women’s program has been much more successful, having made the fourth-most NCAA tournament appearances of any D-I women’s program (25) and won two national championships (1987 and ’89). This year’s women’s Final Four features Northwestern, Denver, Syracuse and Boston College. The Wildcats are one of the most successful programs in college sports over the past two decades, having won seven national championships in a nine-year span from 2005 to ’12, but they’ve lost in the semifinals in each of the past three tournaments.