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Celtics’ 110-97 victory cuts Heat series lead to 3-2, but Butler insists, ‘We can and we will win this series’

BOSTON — Four chances to close out the Eastern Conference finals after taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series are now down to two for the Miami Heat.

Failing to close out the Boston Celtics for the second consecutive game, Erik Spoelstra’s team was humbled 110-97 Thursday night at TD Garden, essentially finished at the start in a game where the closing score hardly was indicative of the level of beatdown.

Instead of turning their attention to the June 1 start of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets, the Heat focus now shifts to Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. Game 6 at Kaseya Center, in the hopes of avoiding a Monday return to Boston for a Game 7.

It is Game 7 that Heat forward Jimmy Butler insists will be avoided.

“We are always going to stay positive, knowing that we can and we will win this series,” Butler said. “We’ll just have to close it out at home.

“It’s going to be all smiles and we are going to keep it very, very, very consistent, knowing that we are going to win next game.”

Irrational confidence?

No said center Bam Adebayo.

“Why would we lose confidence?” he said. “When we started this journey, nobody believed in us. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the first round. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the second round. And now we are here one game away. For us, we’ve always had confidence, and that’s not going to go away.”

As it has been almost all season for the Heat, a season that saw them finish in seventh place in the conference and wind up as a No. 8 seed through the play-in round, nothing has come easy the past two games.

For the second consecutive game, the Celtics loaded up at the 3-point line and saw their leading men outplay the Heat’s leading men.

It was lopsided to the degree that both Butler and Adebayo were done for the night with 10 minutes to play, the best of the Heat duo clearly needed for a Saturday game that assuredly will have an all-or-nothing feel even without it being all or nothing.

Adebayo closed with 16 points and eight rebounds, Butler with 14 points, five assists and five rebounds.

The Heat also got 18 points from Duncan Robinson. 15 points from Haywood Highsmith and 14 points from Caleb Martin.

For the Celtics, it was a four-wing circus, with Derrick White scoring 24, Marcus Smart scoring 23 and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown 21 apiece. In addition, Celtics center Al Horford closed with six points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

NBA teams are 0-150 all-time in best-of-seven series trailed 3-0, with the Celtics two victories now from such a breakthrough.

“Our backs are against the wall and we’re sticking together,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said.

Five Degrees of Heat from Thursday’s game:

1. Decided early: The Celtics burst to an early 16-point advantage and led 35-20 going into the second period.

Boston then moved to a 20-point lead in the second period on the way to a 61-44 halftime advantage.

From there, the Celtics extended their lead to 23 in the third quarter, with a 90-72 lead going into the fourth. At that stage, the Celtics held a 13-0 advantage on second-chance points and 42-18 edge on 3-point scoring.

Despite a pair of losses by a combined 30 points, Spoelstra said spirit remains.

“We have a gnarly group,” he said. “I think so much of that is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals. One game doesn’t lead to the next game. Based on all the experience that we’ve had, it doesn’t matter in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if you lose by whatever.”

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2. Not the answer: With point guard Gabe Vincent out with the ankle sprain sustained in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s Game 4 loss, Kyle Lowry got his first start since Feb. 2, the last game he played before missing six weeks due to knee soreness.

“It’s great to have a Hall of Fame quarterback to step in,” Spoelstra said at the morning shootaround.

Lowry, however, struggled in the starting role, closing with five points, four turnovers and one assist in 30:18.

“I just wasn’t aggressive enough,” Lowry said. “It was an adjustment.”

With Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo already unavailable, the Heat were forced to play Butler as the primary ballhandler when Lowry sat.

3. Rotation alteration: There then was another lineup alteration, when Caleb Martin entered with 6:56 to play after the Heat fell behind 18-5, with starting power forward Kevin Love slow on defensive rotations.

That opening 5:04 proved to be Love’s only action until the start of the fourth quarter, with Highsmith starting the second half at power forward, a move that allowed Martin to remain as a spark off the bench.

“I think it’s a luxury for us to be able to take our egos out of it and do what’s best for the team,” Love said Martin and Highsmith taking some of his minutes.

Held out of the three previous games before mop-up duty in Game 3 and 4 of this series, Highsmith provided a boost in his minutes, an effort that could result in additional action, able to offer the type of defensive coverage that Love lacks.

4. The full Robinson: Robinson helped spark the Heat in the wake of their early deficit, with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2 of 2 on 3-pointers in his initial 12-minute stint.

The problem was there also were three fouls during that stint, sending him to the bench in a game his shooting was needed.

Robinson’s 3-pointers extended his franchise career playoff playoff 3-point record, having passed LeBron James on Tuesday night in Game 4.

He said the message after the game was to absorb and evolve.

“Just to really not forget this,” he said, “shift our focus to Saturday, but let this sting. Let this carry with us, and do what it takes to just maintain that edge that we play our best with.”

5. Turnover tale: The Heat did not necessarily give in, but a case could be made for giving it away.

The Heat were up to 10 turnovers by halftime that led to 17 Celtics points over the first two periods. That total rose to 15 through three quarters, before the Celtics basically called off their dogs.

Adebayo closed with six turnovers, with the Celtics increasingly crowding him with defenders in the paint, attempting to limit him to jump shooter. It did not help that he was not particularly strong with the ball against a defense that mandated otherwise.

“Definitely more of a packed paint,” he said. “For me, man, just got to pick up that sense of urgency and watch film and get back to the basics.”