The Celtics are still alive: 9 takeaways from Game 5 vs. Heat

The Celtics forced a Game 6 with a decisive victory on Thursday.

Celtics Heat
Jayson Tatum and the Celtics took on the Heat in Game 5 on Thursday. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Heat let the Celtics get two.

On Thursday, the Celtics beat the Heat comfortably from start to finish, never letting the lead dip below double digits after the first quarter to claim a 110-97 victory.

Here are the takeaways.

1. Maybe this sounds overly reductive, but the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s game is that the Eastern Conference finals are no longer a 3-0 series.

This a 3-2 series now.

No team has ever rallied back from a 3-0 deficit. All three teams in NBA history who have evened a 3-0 series went on to lose Game 7. The Heat still have a home game, and even if they lose that one, they’ve won two games at TD Garden this series. They have a number of solid role players. They have Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Smart money would probably still bet on them to get back to the Finals.


But the Celtics have turned a lot of things around and applied a ton of pressure to a Heat team that looks shakier now than at any other point in the postseason. The Heat had a negative point differential during the regular season and were one of the worst 3-point shooting squads in the NBA. The Celtics had the league’s best net rating and were the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference.

Things have started to revert to the mean. The Celtics need that reversion to continue just a little while longer.

2. One of the most eye-opening stats over the last two games has been the turnovers for the Heat. The Celtics forced 10 turnovers in the second half of Game 4. On Thursday, they picked up where they left off by forcing 16 and outscoring the Heat 29-17 off those turnovers.

The Heat were the more aggressive team by far in Games 1-3. The fact that the Celtics have turned that on its head is maybe the most important reversal aside from the 3-point shooting.

3. After coming off the bench briefly when the Celtics went back to their double-big group from last season, Derrick White’s return to the starting lineup has gone swimmingly. On Thursday, White led the Celtics in scoring with 24 points and went 6-for-8 from behind the arc — feasting on kick-out opportunities. Several of his triples were timely baskets that helped fend off a Heat team that — even when they are getting soundly blown out — always seems to be able to find a way to make their opponent uncomfortable.


The Heat are going to have to find a way to limit White’s open 3-point attempts, but that’s easier said than done — overreacting to the Celtics’ shooters will open up lanes for the stars.

4. Jaylen Brown was a staggering 3-for-26 from 3-point range in the series entering Thursday’s game, but he went 3-for-5 from behind the arc and finished with 21 points. He still didn’t dominate, but he finished with one turnover for the second consecutive game, scored several very difficult baskets in the paint, and poked away three steals as part of the Celtics’ aggressive defense.

The Heat are a troublesome matchup for Brown, but another performance like Thursday would give the Celtics a chance in Game 6.

5. Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, was the Celtics’ best player even though he too only scored 21 points. Tatum finished with a near triple double, posting 11 assists and eight rebounds, and he was +19 in just under 41 minutes. The Heat worked to get the ball out of his hands and prevent him from going nuclear, but the Celtics have more than enough outlets and Tatum has grown accustomed to finding his teammates when necessary.

Part of the reason the Heat were so concerned about Tatum was his first quarter, when he scored 12 of his 21 points and threw down this monstrous one-handed dunk off a pick-and-roll with Robert Williams.

Something to keep an eye on if the Celtics’ offense grinds a bit in Game 6: The Heat still have not figured out anything other than a zone to limit the Tatum and Rob pick-and-roll, and the Celtics got a lot of baskets against the Heat zone on Thursday.


6. We’re burying this one a bit, even though it might be one of the most important takeaways from Thursday’s game. The Celtics made seven more 3-pointers than the Heat in part because the Heat got just five triples from their usual suspects (Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, and Caleb Martin). That was partly due to Gabe Vincent’s absence (and he reportedly should be back for Game 6) but it felt notable that after outplaying a number of All-NBA players throughout the series, Martin in particular looked more human on Thursday.

Maybe the Heat have a bunch of undrafted stars on their roster, but it’s also possible they hit an unbelievable hot streak at exactly the right time. The Celtics can’t bank on that — they put themselves in a position where they need to have the serious-minded urgency of Games 4 and 5 in every game they play to extend their season — but we have a lot more evidence that players like Martin, Vincent, and Robinson are role players than we do that they can sustain their level of scoring from the last few weeks.

7. The Celtics grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and outscored the Heat 17-7 in second-chance points. Al Horford, who was in just the 13th percentile league-wide in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbed five of them.

The Celtics were a hungry team on Thursday. We cannot stress this enough: To have any chance the rest of the way, they need to remain ravenous.

8. Malcolm Brogdon reportedly has a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, which he has been playing through. He left Thursday’s game after just eight minutes and did not return after the team listed him as “doubtful.”


Brogdon has been a highly useful player throughout the season, but his elbow is clearly affecting his jumper. Given how crucial it is that the Celtics make 3-pointers, keeping Brogdon out for the time being probably makes the most sense.

9. Jimmy Butler was unremarkable offensively for the second game in a row, finishing with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting. The Celtics only allowed him six free throws.

Game 6 is on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Buckle up, because it promises to be one of the wildest, most consequential games of the postseason across the league so far.


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