NBA: Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics big favorites to force Game 6

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Members of the Boston Celtics were talking about a return trip to South Florida mere moments after the team averted a sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

While talk is cheap, the conversation will become real if the Celtics fend off elimination for the second consecutive contest on Thursday when they play host to the Heat in Game 5 in Boston.

“We want to come back to Miami,” Jaylen Brown said after the second-seeded Celtics avoided the brooms with a 116-99 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday.

They still trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series to the eighth-seeded Heat, but the Celtics are heavily favored to push the series to at least Game 6.

AN UNDERDOG STORY
Boston is a 7.5-point favorite at BetMGM, with the big spread leading to Miami drawing 83 percent of the bets and 75 percent of the handle. The line is Celtics -8.0 at BetRivers, where Boston is being backed by only 38 percent of the spread-line bets but has drawn 77 percent of the money.

The underdog has won the past four games in this series, while the Heat have covered the spread in eight of their past nine games overall. Meanwhile, BetRivers added that the home team has won the first quarter in each of the past four games as well.

MOMENTUM SWING?
Jayson Tatum scored 25 of his 33 points in the second half Tuesday, with 14 coming during a third quarter in which Boston outscored Miami by a 38-23 margin. All told, Tatum made 11 of 15 shots from the floor after intermission.

Tatum wasn’t alone, either. The Celtics shot 51.2 percent from the floor (43 of 84) for the game and 40 percent from 3-point range (18 of 45).

“Yeah, everybody was in good spirits, everybody was upbeat, and as cliche as it sounds, we just tried to take it one game at a time,” Tatum said.

TD Garden hasn’t been kind to the home tenants in the postseason, however. The Celtics have lost five of their past seven games in Boston.

NO PANIC IN HEAT
That said, the Heat had won all six of their home playoff games before Tuesday’s tumble in Miami.

The Heat were denied in their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals for the second time in four seasons. They also were thwarted in their first chance to join the 1998-99 New York Knicks as the lone eighth-seeded teams to advance to the NBA Finals.

Jimmy Butler, who recorded team highs in points (29) and rebounds (nine) on Tuesday, refused to get too down after seeing the team’s initial opportunities go by the boards.

“The only thing I’m going to say is we’ll be OK,” Butler said. “Let’s get back to doing what we’ve always done to get us to this point. Continually have belief in one another, knowing that we are going to win, and we will. We’ve just got to play harder.

“There’s not too much to say with this group because we already know. So we’ve just got to go out there and execute.”

The Heat ruled out guard Gabe Vincent with a sprained left ankle. Veteran Kyle Lowry is expected to replace him in the starting lineup.

THEY SAID IT
Heat: “It’s definitely disappointing. That would have been a perfect world, perfect situation. But as we know and everybody else knows, we don’t typically get things the easy way over here. So like I said, this is right up our alley. This is the way it goes for us and guys like us. Again, I think it’s only going to prepare us for the long run. This could be good for us.” — Caleb Martin following the Game 4 loss.

Celtics: “We didn’t play well the first three games, we didn’t deserve to win, but we didn’t want that to define us, define the season. We’ve still got a long uphill battle to go. But (Tuesday) was a good start. Just to try to carry this momentum toward Thursday.” — Jayson Tatum

BY THE NUMBERS
Miami’s Kevin Love has recorded at least five rebounds in 15 consecutive road games, while Boston’s Al Horford has pulled down at least seven boards in nine consecutive playoff games when facing elimination, according to BetRivers.

BetMGM reported that the most popular Game 5 prop pick at the sportsbook is Boston’s Grant Williams to score more than 6.5 points at -140. The second most popular? Williams at +140 to make at least two 3-pointers in the game.

–Field Level Media

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