The Biggest Reasons to Not Give Up on the Heat and Mavericks

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVMay 26, 2022

MIAMI, FL - MAY 25: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat prepares to shoot a free throw during Game 5 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals on May 25, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Following the Boston Celtics' 93-80 road win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday, an NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Celtics is starting to feel like a foregone conclusion.

In the West, Golden State is up 3-1 and headed home. FiveThirtyEight's projection system gives them a 90 percent chance to win the series. In the East, the Celtics are going to Boston with a 3-2 lead and an 89 percent chance to advance.

At this point, the betting odds for having Mavericks-Heat III are a whopping +14,000 on FanDuel. In other words, if you threw down 10 bucks on Dallas and Miami making the Finals and both pulled it off, you'd win $1,400.

In the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas, "So, you're telling me there's a chance."

A lot would have to go right for the trailing teams pull off their respective miracles, but there are reasons to believe they can do it. And we'll break down two for each contender (such as they are) below.

Second-Biggest Reason Not to Give Up On the Heat: Boston's Carelessness

In the end, it didn't cost them Game 5, but the Celtics' inability to stay focused for portions of this series has to at least be mildly concerning.

In the first half on Wednesday, Jayson Tatum was 1-of-9 and had two turnovers. Jaylen Brown was 2-of-7 with four giveaways. On one occasion, Brown appeared to have blinders on as P.J. Tucker approached from the left and simply snatched his dribble.

Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA

Ime Udoka said that when he pulled Jaylen Brown he told him "Be strong with the ball. It's five games in now. We can't keep having these turnovers."

Again, they were able to get things under control (Tatum and Brown combined for 37 points and three turnovers after halftime), but those sloppy stretches can give Miami life in more ways than one.

Most importantly, the giveaways are stops. And plenty of them are forced. All season, Miami's defense fed off mistakes (the Memphis Grizzlies were the only team with a higher opponent's turnover percentage, per Cleaning The Glass). And when the Heat's defense has Boston scrambling, you can feel the momentum. Players like Tucker and Jimmy Butler feed off it.

The other benefit of the turnovers is the easy looks they generate on offense. With Butler and Kyle Lowry both looking either hurt or tired and Tyler Herro missing the last two contests with a groin injury, Miami's offense has looked laborious at best.

Kevin O'Connor @KevinOConnorNBA

This series is over. No way the Heat win two in a row. Not enough firepower. Too many injured guys. Lowry looks hurt or washed. Celtics defense is insane, Tatum and Brown have figured it out on offense. It's done.

The Heat need to keep the pressure up on defense and hope to create as many transition opportunities as possible. Against Boston's set defense, they just can't score enough.

Second-Biggest Reason Not to Give up on the Mavericks: Three-Point Shooting

The Mavericks' playoff run isn't terribly difficult to analyze. When they're hitting threes, they win. When they're not, they don't.

In their nine victories, Dallas has made 17.4 threes per game and shot 41.4 percent from deep. In the losses, the Mavs have made 13.8 threes at 33.7 percent.

Expecting them to shoot as well as they have in wins for four straight games (they already got the first one on Tuesday, when they went 20-of-43 from deep) might be tough to believe in, but it's not impossible.

Dallas is getting over 40 open or wide-open three-point attempts per game in the Western Conference Finals. The looks are there. They're just not falling consistently.

If we assume Game 4 helped the Mavericks settle in and they can shoot around where they were after the All-Star break (36.8 percent from deep), they have a shot (slim as it might be).

Biggest Reason Not to Give Up On the Heat: Jimmy Butler

When you look at Butler's five individual lines throughout the series, it's hard to imagine he's playing healthy.

Nick Angstadt @NickVanExit

What am I supposed to think about Jimmy Butler now? <br><br>GM1. 41pts 12/19 FG 17/18 FT<br>GM2. 29pts, 11/18 FG, 6/8 FT <br>GM3. 8pts, 3/8 FG<br>GM4. 6pts, 3/14 FG<br>GM5. 13pts, 4/18 FG

If you stretch that out even further, Butler was averaging 29.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals through his first 12 playoff games. He was arguably the best player in the postseason. Now, he suddenly looks like an anchor on offense.

For his part, Butler certainly isn't playing up the notion that he's battling through an injury.

"If I'm out there, I just have to be better," Butler said after Game 5. "No excuse."

If he can somehow regain his form from earlier in the playoffs, Miami has a chance. Boston is as loaded with perimeter defense as any team in the league, but Butler is one of the best guards or wings of the three-point era at drawing fouls (he takes 7.3 free-throw attempts per 75 possessions for his career).

Getting inside, drawing contact and getting to the line can get Butler back on track offensively. And if he's able to put pressure on Tatum or Brown when they're handling the ball, he can create some easy transition opportunities.

Of course, all of that is much easier said than done, especially if Butler is nursing a knee injury. But he is one of the game's most competitive players, and it's tough to imagine him going quietly.

Biggest Reason Not to Give up on the Mavericks: Luka Doncic

Down 3-0 on Tuesday, Luka Doncic went off for 30 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks. And he put himself on a list with LeBron James (something he's probably starting to get used to).

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

On Tuesday, Luka Doncic led both teams outright in points, rebounds and assists for the 3rd time in his career when facing elimination.<br><br>From <a href="https://twitter.com/EliasSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EliasSports</a>, the only player in NBA history with more such games is LeBron James (5). <a href="https://t.co/YNbB2HD6wr">pic.twitter.com/YNbB2HD6wr</a>

"I still believe we can win," Luka said after Game 4. "Swept or not swept, if you lose, you lose. Got to go game by game."

In each one of those games, Doncic can be the best player on the floor. So far this series, he has been. He leads the Western Conference Finals in points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game, and he trails only Stephen Curry in assists.

Andrew Wiggins' efforts to slow Luka down have been admirable, but there's no real answer for him. His production alone gives Dallas a chance to be competitive. If his kickout options hit some shots and the defense can provide a little resistance, the Mavericks have a prayer.

Statistics from Basketball Reference and Stathead unless otherwise noted.