This time it was Bam Adebayo’s teammates who stepped in to block the shot. It was the one the Miami Heat center took at himself.
They were having none of it, insisting Adebayo is more the reason why the Heat hold a 3-2 lead on the Boston Celtics in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals than, as he insisted, why they lost Friday night’s Game 5.
In the wake of that loss, Adebayo cut off discussion of the Heat’s 3-point woes, the emerging inefficiency of the team’s zone defense, or the notion of a collective failure that extended the series to Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. Game 6.
“I played like s---,” Adebayo said. “Bottom line. I put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me.
“I missed too many shots I should have made. Put that one on me.”
His teammates wouldn’t. Nor would they hear of it when his comments were relayed.
“That’s not on Bam,” guard Goran Dragic said. “He should not say that.
“We know it’s not like that. It’s not on nobody. It’s on us together as a team. We should do a better job as a team.”
Statistically, Adebayo did what he typically does, filling out the box score over his 38 minutes, with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, a blocked shot and a steal.
But he also finished a game-worst minus-15, playing all 12 minutes in the decisive third quarter when the Heat were outscored 41-25.
“I wasn’t being the defensive anchor that I should have been,” Adebayo said. “I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind.
“I got to be better. That’s the bottom line. That’s it.”
Dragic said it wasn’t as if Adebayo stood alone in the meltdown.
“Everybody looked terrible in the third quarter. We didn’t defend. We didn’t do our job,” he said. “That’s how we got here, as a team. And if we lose, we lose as a team.”
Adebayo went into Friday night a series-best plus-29. Now, at plus-14 for the series he stands below the plus-19 of both Boston starting forwards, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“I just can’t do whatever I did in this game ever again,” Adebayo said, as hard on himself as after any game this season, or, arguably, in his three-season Heat career. “My mentality is I have to be better for my teammates. It’s the Eastern Conference finals. This ain’t easy to let go. I’ve got 24 hours to get over it.”
Teammate Jimmy Butler said there is nothing to get over, any more than any other teammate, even with Adebayo having served as the team’s fulcrum for success this postseason.
“It’s on everybody,” Butler said. “He does so much for us that it can feel like that at times, but it’s definitely not on him. It’s on us as a whole. We all understand that because nobody was playing the way that we are supposed to play, the way that we have to play in order for us to win. Nobody.
“And for him to say that, I respect it. I love him for it. But he can’t do it by himself. We’ve got to be there with him.”
After opting for smaller lineups for most of the series, and after often being punished by Adebayo as a result, Celtics coach Brad Stevens stayed bigger in Game 5. Starting center Daniel Theis played all but 39 seconds of the second half, closing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Stevens also carved out 10:10 for backup center Enes Kanter, who provided eight points and four rebounds.
“We got a lot out of that center position,” Stevens said. “That’s important.
“I think the threat at the rim of a big makes a big difference for our offense and for us. We’ll certainly have opportunities to go back to it.”
That’s because work now remains for the Heat to earn their way back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014.
But it’s work, Butler said, that has to be shouldered by more than just Adebayo.
“I think he knows. He can’t get stuck on this game now,” Butler said. “We learn from it. It’s something that will pass. We need him to be who he is on Sunday. We’re going to need everybody to be that way.”
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