MIAMI — The Boston Celtics found themselves five behind the Miami Heat on the road at halftime in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night.
And yet, the Celtics felt very good. They couldn’t have played much worse in the first half, committing 10 turnovers and giving up nine offensive rebounds to Miami – which allowed the Heat to take 14 more 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 get back to his average game.”
No one played worse than Jaylen Brown. He went 2 for 7 from the field and committed four turnovers – all in the first quarter.
Then the second half started. And, as time went on, Brown ended up being the face of the team’s turnaround.
Brown’s 19-point, 0-turnover second half — coupled with an 18-point second half from Jayson Tatum — allowed Boston to finally open up what was a first-half rock fight , as the Celtics won 93-80 over the Heat, moving Boston one more win away from its first trip to the NBA Finals in 12 years.
“Same player,” Brown said from the first half to the second. “I just had to settle in. That’s all. As the game goes on, some of that energy, some of that intensity starts to fade, so the game opens up a bit. The game opened up for me in the second half.
“I didn’t want to go down. 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 s—. I threw it away. [Just] go out, play some basketball in the second half.”
It was unclear if Boston was going to be able to follow Brown’s instructions after another lousy basketball streak in this series for the Celtics in the first half of Game 5. The difference from other periods when Boston went off the rails in this series, however, is that the Celtics didn’t allow the Heat to break up the game.
Instead, things were just as ugly on the Miami side. As Tatum and Brown combined to go 10-for-33 in the first half and the Celtics tossed the ball, Miami couldn’t hit anything 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 with 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 take advantage of it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do. You know, if you’re going to break through and get a ticket to the Finals, you’re going to have to do some ridiculously difficult things. Going to Boston and figuring that out collectively, it’s the emotions and the breakthroughs that you have that you you’ll remember the rest of your life. Bring this thing back on the 29th. That’s all we talked about in there.
It was a game that, like the rest of this series, will never be called pretty. But, for the Celtics — a team that built its remarkable midseason turnaround around a suffocating defense — it was the latest example of the physique they’ve prided themselves on throughout the playoffs.
“I think the mental stress and strain that we put on some teams with our defense worked and got us through the playoffs at times,” Udoka said. “You saw on the Brooklyn series, the guys started to wear out. Game 7 [last round against the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis] Antetokounmpo slowed some down. But having all these bodies to throw at people is physically and mentally draining them, which makes it difficult, as long as we don’t give them easy baskets in transition.
“With our guys, we’re always confident that they’ll make it and eventually come out on top.”
Brown and Tatum certainly did it in the second half. After those early struggles, Brown went the last three quarters without a turnover. And, in a game crying out for someone – anyone – to take a shot after that first-half brick party on both sides, Brown took over in the second half.
He hit the last shot of the third quarter (a tough midrange bucket) and the first of the fourth (a triple on the wing) to push Boston’s lead into double digits for good. He made sure he stayed there by scoring 13 of his points in the fourth quarter on 5-on-6 shooting.
“Just the guys who settle down, keep being aggressive, stop turning the ball over,” Brown said. “We gave them a lot more shots than we had in the first half. We were only five behind. We knew if we took care of it we would have open opportunities and knock them down.
“So keep playing basketball, be aggressive. That’s why basketball is 48 minutes.”
It was a similar turnaround for Tatum, who repeatedly clutched his shoulder throughout the first half as he clearly suffered from the nervous issue that briefly knocked him out in the fourth quarter of Game 3. .
But Tatum kept trying to make plays for others in the first half and eventually ended the night with 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in over 44 minutes as he – like Brown – snuck up. finally settled into a rhythm in the second half. progressed.
“Yeah, that bothered me,” Tatum said. “We just figured it out.
“Obviously they are a very good team. Both teams play hard, compete and things like that. But the guys like [Derrick] White, of course [Marcus] Smart being there, just his presence, and JB did some big punches. Everyone contributed from start to finish.”
Now the series returns to TD Garden, where Boston — on its sixth trip to the Conference Finals since last appearing in the NBA Finals — will have a chance to finally take that final step in the league championship round.
But after a playoff that has already seen so many twists and turns for the Celtics – including returning from the same deficit the Heat find themselves in, down 3-2 on the road in Game 6, to beat the Bucks in conference . semifinals – Boston knows its job isn’t done yet.
“The mindset and discussion we had after the game was that we were down 3-2 last time out, we had to go on the road and win a Game 6, and we did that,” said Tatum said. “We can’t think it’s over. We have to go home like we’re down 3-2, with this sense of urgency that it’s a game to be won, no relaxation because we’re on our feet. .
“It’s possible [for Miami to come back]. Obviously we did it the last set, so knowing that, speaking of which, obviously enjoying this one, but not being satisfied knowing that we still have things to clean up, we have to play even better. The job just isn’t done yet.”
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