The Miami Heat seemingly had the Eastern Conference finals won as recently as Sunday. When they won Game 3 against the Boston Celtics, they pushed their series lead up to 3-0. No NBA team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead, but the Celtics are making a strong push towards history with big wins in Games 4 and 5. Now the Heat are on the defensive, and they play their last home game of the series on Saturday when they host Boston for Game 6.
It's a game the Heat fully expect to win. At least Jimmy Butler thinks so, as he guaranteed victory after Miami's Game 5 loss. "We're always going to stay positive knowing that we can and we will win this series," Butler told reporters. "We'll just have to close it out at home."
Home teams are typically enormous favorites in any playoff game, especially those that come later in a series. The Celtics might present the rare exception. Boston has actually been better on the road this postseason (5-3) than it has been at home (5-5). Over the long regular-season sample, Miami's home record (27-14) wasn't much better than Boston's road record (25-16), and the Celtics had a better road net rating (plus-3.3) than Miami's at home (plus-1.1). The Heat will have the home-court edge in Game 6, but the numbers suggest that won't be much of an advantage.
That was true last season, when these two teams met in the playoffs and the home team won only two of the seven games. That included Boston's Game 7 victory on the road to clinch their trip to the NBA Finals. Of course, Butler nearly prevented that victory with two of the best games of his career to end that series. He scored 47 points in Game 6 to effectively create a one-game Eastern Conference championship a season ago, and then he nearly stole Game 7 with a 35-point masterpiece. He came one 3-pointer short.
Butler has been even better for much of this postseason, guiding a No. 8 seed to the brink of the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1999 Knicks made it all the way there. But Game 6 will present his toughest challenge yet. The Heat have lost two games in a row. They're missing two key role players in Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, and Gabe Vincent may also be out after sitting for Game 5 with an ankle sprain. The onus is going to be on Butler to win this game for Miami, and if his post-game comments on Thursday were any indication, he plans to do just that.