BOSTON – From a series sweep to a tough series, the Boston Celtics are turning the Eastern Conference Finals.

They’re still in a big hole, but they again easily beat the Miami Heat on Thursday, 110-97, in Game 5, with four of their starters scoring at least 20 points, and are now two wins away from being the first team to do so. NBA history followed to win the series, 3-0.

Game 6 is Saturday at 8:30 in Miami. The Celtics have won their last two games by a combined 30 points. Boston never trailed Thursday and led by as many as 24 — a 15-point game after the first quarter.

“Our backs are against the wall and we’re sticking together and competing at a high level to give ourselves a chance,” Boston coach Joe Mazzula said.

Celtics forward Derek White and Marcus Smart had easily their best games of the series. They took advantage of the Heat’s loss of starting point guard Gabe Vincent (sprained left ankle) and victimized Max Stress and Vincent’s replacement, Kyle Lowry.

White, who opened the conference finals as a reserve, finished with 24 points on six 3s and a double steal. Smart had 23 points (four 3s) and five steals.

“He just plays with defensive versatility and does a great job paying attention to detail in personnel tendencies,” Mazzula said of White. About Smart, “He’s an emotional key for us. When he’s locked in and plays at different speeds on both sides of the ball, he gives us our identity and our lives.

Jayson Tatum nearly had a triple-double (21 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds and Jaylen Brown added 21 points.) Tatum led Boston with 12 points in the first, including a dunk with 3:18 left that sparked Miami’s second lead. of the game. At that point, the Celtics were up by 15 and the game was close at 11 points in the second quarter.

Neither Bam Adebayo (16 points, eight rebounds) nor Jimmy Butler (14 points) played in the fourth quarter of this contest. Miami turned to Haywood Highsmith for the first time in this series and provided 15 points off the bench, Caleb Martin (14 points) and Duncan Robinson with 18 points.

Lowry and Struss led the Heat in spades (combining for eight points on 3-of-10 shooting). Miami was again plagued by turnovers (16 to 27 Celtic points) and gave up 17 second-chance points. The Celtics, continuing another recent trend, were hot again from 3-point range.

“Their activity level has been up the last two games, and that’s what you have to expect in a competitive playoff game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And then we’re playing in public. There can be some good things out of this, if we read the game, read the covers and make the appropriate plays.

“You have to give credit to the movement,” Spoelstra continued. “They caught us often in the paint with quick hands, stripping, things of that nature. We have to do that to the beach. That’s two games in a row. We have to be aggressive and then make the right plays in the right spacing.

One more win would bring this series to an improbable Game 7 on Monday in Boston, with a lot of history on the line and the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.

As you know, none of the 150 teams that have gone down 3-0 in a series have come back to win. Only three teams have forced a Game 7. It wasn’t long before the Celtics were about to fold, with fair questions being asked in Boston about Mazzula’s future and the future of the roster.

“Yeah, obviously Game 3 was tough, but I mean, we’ve been together in the locker room all year, have each other’s backs, and I was confident we’d come back,” White said. . “We’ve been doing that in the last two games.”

On the other hand, the Heat are (still) trying to become their second No. 8 seed and first since 1999. He went 0-for-2 in his first two cracks. You want to see how 0-3 feels.

“The last two games, that’s not who we are,” Butler said. “That’s how it happened. We stopped playing defense halfway through because we weren’t making the shots we wanted to make. But that’s easily fixed. You just have to jump out and play hard. Like I always say, it’s going to be all smiles and we’re going to keep it very, very, very consistent knowing we’re going to win the next game.”

The Celtics look like themselves

It took the Celtics until midway through Game 4 to figure things out, but they put together a wall-to-wall performance in Game 5 to make a 0-3 comeback shockingly real.

Boston’s shooting has been unsustainably good, but their attention to detail and tenacity have come back with their identity and planning on both ends. – Weiss

Peak Boston basketball

Tatum finally unlocks Miami’s defense and is very comfortable drawing doubles and finding shooters. The team was moving the ball quickly and decisively and the defense was accurate without having to overextend. The individual defense against Butler and Adebayo has been impressive, and Boston is nailing the gap to get out of countless turnovers.

This is the peak of Celtics basketball, and if they keep this focus, they look like they can make a great comeback. – Weiss

The Celtics play hard

The Celtics were strong from the start. On the first play, Smart knocked the ball away from Adebayo and dove upfield to take possession. Then Boston forced 15 more turnovers, five more by Adebayo.

Boston was outscored after opening the game on a 20-5 run, but held a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Tatum didn’t have a big scoring game, but he controlled everything with his offensive reads. – King

Why did the heat fight?

The Celtics aren’t giving Adebayo anything to do, which is one of the ways this series has changed. After attempting just seven shots in Game 4, Adebayo committed six turnovers Thursday. Boston is collapsing on him and stripping the ball.

Adebayo isn’t making his moves fast enough or finding an open teammate when the double team comes up; Partly because the Heat don’t move much without the ball. On a night when Vincent was out, and in a season where Miami was using Adebayo to facilitate the offense, not getting him going or Boston’s turnover defensively was a recipe for disaster. – Varden

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(Photo: Winslow Townson / USA Today)

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