The Miami Heat can earn their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 2014 when they duel the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
The fifth-seeded Heat inched closer to a shot at their fourth NBA title by holding off the third-seeded Celtics 112-109 on Wednesday night for a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
Miami, which won championships as the East's second and first seed in 2012 and 2013, respectively, is attempting to become the first team seeded fifth or lower to reach the NBA Finals since the eighth-seeded New York Knicks lost to San Antonio in 1999.
The last team seeded fifth or lower to win an NBA title was Houston in 1995, when it beat Orlando as the West's No. 6 seed.
Miami has never lost a playoff series in which it led 3-1. The Heat held such an advantage over top-seeded Milwaukee in the Eastern semifinals, then needed just one more game to eliminate the Bucks.
The last time the Celtics found themselves in a 3-1 hole was last season against the Bucks in the Eastern semis. Milwaukee closed out the best-of-seven in the next game.
Boston hasn't rallied to win a series after trailing 3-1 since beating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Finals in 1981. The Celtics went on to beat Houston in the NBA Finals that season.
The Heat have managed the 3-1 series lead despite being outshot both overall and on 3-pointers, and being outrebounded. Even the total points scored through four games -- 441-441 -- are not indicative of a one-sided series.
The big difference in the series: The Heat have managed to get up six more shots per game, mostly as a direct result of having forced 16.0 Celtics turnovers per night while committing just 11.3 of their own.
Turnovers have killed the Celtics in their last two defeats. They gave away a total of 39 in Games 2 and 4, resulting in 43 Miami points. Meanwhile, the Heat had just 19 giveaways, resulting in just 19 points.
The frustration of letting winnable games get away got the attention of at least one Celtics player after Wednesday's loss.
"(We) definitely have to stick together," Jaylen Brown insisted. "Fight to the end. I think that's the best thing that we can do to represent this organization, represent ourselves, represent our families, is stay together, and play hard. And I think everybody will be a part of that result."
Game 4 had a different look from the previous three. The Heat, who had gone up in the series using superior depth, rode the strength of four big-time scorers, three in the 20s and rookie Tyler Herro with a historic 37.
The only 20-year-old to score more points in a playoff game than Herro was Magic Johnson (42) of the Los Angeles Lakers in the clinching Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers.
On the other hand, the Celtics got a series-high 14 points from Gordon Hayward and displayed a better depth of scorers than in previous games, but couldn't overcome star Jayson Tatum's scoreless first half.
One of the Heat's concerns in the wake of Wednesday's win was the condition of center Bam Adebayo's sore left wrist. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra reported Thursday that his big man was fine as he attempted to treat his club's workout session on the eve of a potential NBA Finals-clincher as just another day.
"We stuck with our routine," Spoelstra noted. "Everybody got the treatment, rest. Today is another day for rest and recovery. Everybody knows what to expect for (Game 5)."
Game 6, if necessary, is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
--Field Level Media
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Key Players to Watch
- Wristout for season | out
Langford will miss the remainder of the season after having surgery to fix the scapholunate ligament in his right wrist.
- KneeQues Sun | questionable
Green is recuperating from surgery to fix a small tear to the meniscus in his right knee, and it is unknown if he will be ready for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals versus the Heat.
- AnkleQues Sat | questionable
Hayward is sidelined with a Grade 3 right ankle sprain, and it is unclear if he will return to action against the Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
- PersonalProb Tues | probable
Poirier is away from the team for the birth of his child. He is likely to return against the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference second round.
- GroinProb Tues | probable
Brown is hampered by a groin injury, but he is expected to be active for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final versus the Heat.
- KneeQues Sun | questionable
Vincent is battling a sore right knee, and it is uncertain if he will play against the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
- BackProb Sat | probable
Iguodala is dealing with back spasms, but is likely to take on the Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.