The Celtics staved off elimination Friday night, coming back to beat the Heat, 121-108, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here’s what we saw:
The Celtics’ bad start was a microcosm of their past struggles.
Boston opened the game 1-for-12 from the floor, with eight of those attempts coming from deep. That five-plus-minute span also included three turnovers to highlight their discombobulated opening stint. No rhythm and a lack of effort rose to the surface, just as it had in their previous three losses.
The Celtics’ struggle to win the battle in the paint stuck out in the first quarter as well, getting outscored 12-2 in that category over the game’s first 12 minutes. With the season on the line, Boston shot 25 percent in the first quarter.
They were lucky to be down just seven at the half, but the Celtics didn’t give in and quickly turned things around after the break.
Boston needs to carbon-copy its third quarter moving forward.
The Celtics third quarter was what fans have been begging for over the last four games. Boston attacked Heat switches and pressured the ball defensively on every possession, which translated to some major positives on the other end. When the Celtics get things going defensively, everything seems to follow. That certainly was the case in Game 4.
Tatum came out with some aggressive looks, both as a playmaker and a scorer.
He finished with 17 points in the quarter on 4-of-6 shooting, spurring a 20-3 Celtics run that gave them the lead. They never looked back, carrying their momentum into the fourth quarter.
From halftime until the 6:34 mark of the fourth quarter, Boston went on a 56-31 run, playing with energy, urgency and effort, three things they lacked in three of this series’ first four games.
Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis provided a major lift.
Enes Kanter came in and scored eight points in his first six minutes on 4-of-4 shooting. The Celtics were in desperate need of some energy off the bench, and they found it in the Turkish big man.
He missed a few easy layups toward the end of the first half, but given what he’d already done, it was a fair trade-off. Kanter helped Boston get into the paint, something it needed to do much more of after a lackluster showing in the opening quarter. Of the Celtics’ 33 second-quarter points, 22 of them came in the paint.
“It just kind of kept us at bay. We were struggling,” Brad Stevens said. “Kanter’s points there in the paint really helped.”
Daniel Theis was terrific all night long, outplaying Bam Adebayo in the second half to help Boston pull away. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds on an efficient 6-of-10 night. Theis’ defense was tremendous, stringing together some major defensive stands over the course of Boston’s run., which ultimately made a big difference in preventing Miami from making a run.
“We got a lot out of that center position tonight,” Stevens said. “That’s important.”
Boston needs to continue getting Jaylen Brown touches moving forward.
Entering Game 5, Marcus Smart had gotten 79 more touches over the course of the series than Jaylen Brown. Anyone who watches this Celtics team knows that shouldn’t be the case. While Tatum is Boston’s best player, Brown has been its most consistent.
The Celtics got Brown involved often Friday night, and it paid dividends. He finished with 28 points and eight rebounds on 12-of-23 shooting. Brown was aggressive on both sides of the ball, using his defensive activity to disrupt Miami and create opportunities on the other end. On breakouts, Brown was the first one to fill the lane for his teammates. That aggression and urgent mindset will be huge for the Celtics moving forward.
“I thought he was really good,” Stevens said of Brown’s performance.
Brown is averaging 22.6 points and seven rebounds on 54.9 percent shooting (51.9 percent 3PT) so far this series. He’s become so dependable, and that’s why Stevens and Co. need to keep turning his way. Continuing to get Brown involved will be imperative in Boston wants to extend this series to seven games.
Which team do we get on Sunday?
This game was great for Celtics fans, but I’d assume it was a bit frustrating as well. They’ve known what this team was capable of all series long, but it took them until Friday’s second half to finally put it all together.
Frustrating or not, it’s a sign of life, which should mean good things moving forward, right? Ideally, the Celtics can carry this momentum into Game 6. If they do that and steal another win, anything is possible in Game 7. Miami likely won’t shoot 19.4 percent from deep again, but if Boston’s ball pressure remains a top priority, the Heat will struggle to get settled along the perimeter which will make a big difference.
Boston and Miami meet for Game 6 on Sunday.
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