The Celtics live to see another day. They defeated the Miami Heat, 121-108, in Game 5 to cut the Heat’s series lead to 3-2.
While they won by double-digits, it didn’t look like the Celtics were going to force a Game 6 in the first quarter. They made just one of their first 12 shots and committed four turnovers in the first seven minutes, allowing the Heat to get off to a 17-5 lead.
The Celtics eventually did cut into the lead, with the Heat holding a 26-18 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 58-51 lead at halftime.
“We were playing a little bit fast,” Jaylen Brown told reporters of the Celtics’ first half. “We were a bit angsty. We were trying to win the game in the first half.”
Something happened at halftime that changed the tide for the Celtics.
Head coach Brad Stevens briefly addressed the team during the break before letting the players have the room, according to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.
“I just remember Kemba (Walker) saying ‘We just need to settle down a little bit,'” Brown said. “…That’s what I remember and that’s what we did.”
As Brown said, whatever was said during halftime worked. The Celtics got off to a 20-5 run over the first 6:30 minutes of the second half, giving them a 71-63 lead.
Friday’s third quarter was indeed different to many third quarters the Celtics have had this postseason. They outscored the Heat 41-25 in the third to give them a 92-83 lead.
Jayson Tatum scored 17 of his game-high 31 points in the third, shooting 4-for-5 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the quarter.
While Tatum’s efficient scoring was definitely big, he said that the Celtics’ play on the defensive end got them going for the second half.
“It just starts on the defensive end,” Tatum said. “They’re a great team. They move the ball really well. They play with pace. We didn’t defend as well as we could in the first half. I think that’s what got our offense going, got us going in that second half. It got us locked in and on the same page.”
Tatum’s right leg iced up during his press conference. He said he was just dealing with some bumps and bruises.
Like Tatum, Brown also pointed to the defense as the reason why the Celtics dominated the third.
“We just needed to stay with it, keep making the right play,” Brown said. “Settle down a little bit. And when we did, our shots started going in. Our defensive intensity was good. We gave up less baskets in the third quarter. We looked like the team we all know and love.”
While Tatum and Brown, who scored 28 points in Game 5, were the leading scorers Friday night, it was the Celtics’ two centers that received a lot of praise after the game.
Enes Kanter helped bring the Celtics offense alive in the first half, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out two assists in nine minutes.
“Just kind of kept us at bay,” Stevens said of Kanter’s first-half performance. “We were struggling. They hit some tough shots. (Duncan) Robinson was going nuts. Kanter’s points there in the paint really helped. It kind of helped steady us and give us a chance at halftime.”
“Those guys were big tonight,” Tatum added of the Celtics’ centers. “Lot of effort and heart. Especially Enes. He never knows when he’s gonna play, but he always gives great effort and energy.”
Daniel Theis finished the game with a double-double, scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds (five of which came on the offensive end) and had three blocks.
“I thought he was pretty good all night,” Stevens said of Theis. “I thought he started the game with good energy. Defensively, I thought he was one of our bright spots early. In the second half, he was excellent. We need him to provide what he provides.
“He was great in the middle of the zone. He caught it twice and scored. He was great there on the glass, on both ends. We need him to be good. We got a lot out of that center position tonight. That’s important.”
“Yeah, Theis was great,” Brown added. “Any time Theis is great it’s great for our team. He probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves, he has a tough job every night. So, big shout out to Theis. He was probably the signifier as to why we won the way we did.”
With the Celtics still down 3-2, they still have an uphill battle to climb. Only 13 times in league history has a team come back and won after trailing 3-1 in a series.
Brown still likes the Celtics’ chances.
“It’s a lot of fight in our team,” Brown said. “And we came this far. We’ve sacrificed so much and we’ve been here for a long a– time. If anything, if we (were going) to go out, we wanted to go down fighting.”
The Celtics will try to force a Game 7 when they take on the Heat on Sunday.
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