When Game 5 was finally over, the Celtics had awakened from their slumber, surviving Miami 121-108 to reduce the Heat series lead to 3-2.
“We just knew in the first half that we were playing with a lot of energy, but it was all over the place,” said Brown. “And we just had to compose it. We had the right frame of mind from the start of the game, but it was all over the place. Once we settled in for a bit and kept the same intensity, it worked for us. ”
After the first hiccup, every member of the Celtics’ rotation played their part according to specifications. Tatum and Brown led the way, opportunists on the ride and quick on the clearance from a distance. Marcus Smart showed his bona fide All-NBA Defensive first team high off the ground and threaded the needle into the half court with nifty passes. Gordon Hayward was not exceptionally sharp, but glimmers of the point of play forward with the full toolbox were revealed in the second half. Kanter made his impression of Moses Malone. And after being a passive early on, center Daniel Theis helped shatter the area and dominated the offensive glass.
Theis and Kanter were also instrumental in helping unlock playmaker Walker who, despite a run-of-the-mill stat line (15 points on a 4-for-11 shot and seven assists) and trouble, played the mark of basketball he prefers. Walker is a pick-and-roll virtuoso who can carve out defenses when he confidently operates out of the action. But in the bubble, Walker never quite found his game. He went into recovery breastfeeding knee pain. In the conference semifinals, he was the target of the Toronto Raptors box-and-one zone. And he ran into similar issues against the Heat’s 2-3 zone pattern, never finding a way to show off his dance moves.
On Friday night, he finally got the chance to pop a tall screen and hide behind his big man to find space to throw himself beyond the arc. His performance in the third quarter was second only to Tatum in jumping the Celtics from potential elimination to survival.
“We were just aggressive, really feeding off each other’s energy,” Walker said. “This is who we are. We were there to cheer on each other… we really enjoyed the game. “
Like Walker, Tatum entered Game 5 with an eye toward redemption. His scoreless first half in Game 4 was an embarrassment, and after another forgettable first half on Friday he found an offense on the floor in the third quarter. He hooked up on a pair from a distance, but did most of his damage on the dribble, shooting fouls at will against Miami. The Heat just couldn’t contain Tatum in the half court without hacking him. He controlled the pace of the game, frustrating a Heat defense that had come full circle for much of the series and allowing the Celtics defense to focus on the following possessions.
Brown demanded his usual damage both on the half court and in transition. As is often the case, Brown discovered his offense in the stream, seizing opportunities he found it. He was also the first Celtics starter to come out of the doldrums in the first half and challenge the Heat’s defense.
During a small argument in the second half, coach Brad Stevens told his team that for the first time in several games they were playing Celtics basketball. While this was probably obvious to anyone who has watched this series of conference finals, it was a powerful statement that spoke both of how far the Celtics’ recent efforts are from their ideal selves and Boston’s potential. to be two. monster way when the players are confident and aggressive.
“He was absolutely right, we didn’t play the way we wanted to for the whole series,” Theis said. “We didn’t play our defense, we made adjustments and just went back to our system like we’ve been playing all year. Everyone felt comfortable in our system. You could tell by the third quarter that everyone was enjoying being there. ”
If the Celtics can maintain what they found in Game 5 for two more games, that statement may be a prophecy.