MIAMI – The Boston Celtics trailed the Miami Heat by five points on the road at halftime in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
And yet, the Celtics felt good. They couldn’t have played much worse in the first half, committing 10 turnovers and giving up nine offensive rebounds to Miami, allowing the Heat to take 14 extra shots.
“We weren’t playing our best, in a lot of ways,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Sometimes all it takes is for a guy to go back to the average game of his.”
Nobody was playing worse than Jaylen Brown. He was 2-of-7 from the field and had four turnovers, all in the first quarter.
Then the second half started. And, as it unfolded, Brown ended up being the team’s face of change.
Brown’s 19-point, zero-turnover second half, coupled with an 18-point second half from Jayson Tatum, allowed Boston to finally open up what was a tough first-half fight, as the Celtics won 93-80 over Boston. the Heat, putting Boston one more victory away from its first trip to the NBA Finals in 12 years.
“Same player,” Brown said from the first half through the second. “I just had to settle in. That’s it. As the game goes on, some of that energy, some of that intensity starts to wear off, so the game opens up a little bit. The game opened up for me in the second half. .
“I didn’t want to get discouraged. I didn’t want to look back, think this game was over. My team needed me to come out and respond.”
“The first half was shit. I threw it away. [Just] come out, play basketball in the second half.”
It wasn’t clear whether Boston would be able to follow Brown’s instructions after another slump of basketball in this series for the Celtics in the first half of Game 5. The difference from the other stretches in which Boston has gone off the field The rails in this series, however, is that the Celtics didn’t allow the Heat to open the game.
Instead, things were just as bad on the Miami side of the ledger. As Tatum and Brown combined to shoot 10-for-33 in the first half, and the Celtics threw the ball, Miami couldn’t connect either. His starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Max Strus combined to go 0-for-15 from the field and 0-for-12 from 3-point range for the game. Jimmy Butler, playing through a knee problem, finished just 4-for-18. And overall, the Heat finished a dismal 7-for-45 from 3-point range.
“You have to enjoy this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do. You know, if you want to break through and get a ticket to the Finals, you’re going to have to do some ridiculously hard stuff. Getting to Boston and figuring it out collectively, those are the emotions and the breakthrough that you have to remember for the rest of your life. Bring this back on the 29th. That’s all we talked about there.”
It was a game that, like the rest of this series, will never be called pretty. But for the Celtics, a team that has built its remarkable midseason turnaround around a suffocating defense, it was the latest example of the physicality they’ve prided themselves on during the playoffs.
“I think the mental stress and strain that we put on some teams with our defense has worked and gotten us through the playoffs at times,” Udoka said. “You saw in the Brooklyn series, the guys started to wear down. Game 7 [last round against the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis] Antetokounmpo slowed down a bit. But having all those bodies to keep shooting people wears them down physically and mentally, making it tough as long as we don’t give them easy baskets in transition.
“With our guys, we always trust that they’ll get it going and figure it out eventually.”
Brown and Tatum certainly did it in the second half. After those initial struggles, Brown went through the final three quarters with no turnovers. And, in a game that was crying out for someone, anyone, to take a shot after that first-half brick-fest on both sides, Brown stepped up to the plate in the second half.
He hit the final shot of the third quarter (a hard midrange jumper) and the first of the quarter (a 3-pointer off the wing) to push Boston’s lead into double figures for good. He made sure he stayed there by scoring 13 of his points in the fourth quarter on 5-of-6 shooting.
“Just the guys settled down, stayed aggressive, stopped turning the ball over,” Brown said. “We gave them a lot more shots than we did in the first half. We were only down five points. We knew if we took care of that, we’d have some open opportunities and we’d take them down.”
“So keep playing basketball, be aggressive. That’s why basketball is 48 minutes long.”
It was a similar change for Tatum, who repeatedly grabbed his shoulder during the first half as he was clearly suffering from the nerve issue that kept him out of the fourth quarter of Game 3.
But Tatum kept trying to make plays for others in the first half, eventually finishing the night with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in 44-plus minutes as he, like Brown, finally settled into a rhythm. of the second half. progressed
“Yeah, it was bugging me,” Tatum said. “We just found out.
“Obviously they are a very good team. Both teams play hard, compete and stuff like that. But the guys like [Derrick] white obviously [Marcus] It’s smart to be out there, just his presence, and JB made some big shots. Everyone contributed from start to finish.”
Now, the series returns to the TD Garden, where Boston, on its sixth trip to the conference finals since last reaching the NBA Finals, will have the opportunity to finally take that final step toward the championship round of the NBA Finals. league.
But during a postseason that has already seen so many twists and turns for the Celtics, including coming back from the same deficit the Heat find themselves in, down 3-2 on the road in Game 6, to beat the Bucks in the conference. Semifinals: Boston knows its job isn’t done yet.
“The mindset and the conversation that we had after the game was that we were down 3-2 last time, we had to come out of the house and win a Game 6, and we did it,” Tatum said. “We can’t think it’s over. We need to come home like we’re down 3-2, with that sense of urgency that it’s a game you have to win, not relaxing because we’re up.”
“It’s possible [for Miami to come back]. Obviously, we did it in the last series, so knowing that, talking about it, obviously enjoying this one, but not being satisfied knowing that we still have things to clean up, we still have to play better. The job is not done yet.”