By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With the Celtics taking the floor for Game 5 down 3-1 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Friday night was a “show me what you got” kind of game. If the Celtics still possessed the heart and desire that we saw throughout the regular season and early in the playoffs, they’d come out on fire and force a Game 6 on Sunday night.
That “come out on fire” part didn’t happen, but it was only delayed instead of nonexistent. The Celtics started a bit sluggish and erratic, and could have easily bowed out when they fell behind by a dozen points in the opening frame, punching their tickets out of the Orlando bubble and back to Boston for Saturday morning.
Instead, they clawed back in the second quarter and came out of halftime determined to see another day. After a dominant second half, the Celtics walked away with a 121-108 win, showing us quite a bit in the process.
For starters, they aren’t going to go down without a fight.
“There is a lot of fight in our team,” said Jaylen Brown, who finished with 28 points on 12-for-23 shooting. “We came this far and sacrificed so much. We’ve been here for a long ass time. If anything, if we go out, we want to go out fighting.”
“Our deal was to come out and play, compete and give it our best shot. We played well in the second half and we’re going to have to do it again and again because of the position we’re in,” head coach Brad Stevens said after the win. “We care about competing and representing our team well, and we care about each other. That’s why you compete.”
After a halftime pep talk from Kemba Walker, Boston’s anxiousness of the first half melted away — and so did Miami’s lead. The Celtics completely flipped the script of Game 5 when the second half began, racing out to a 20-5 run that turned a seven-point Miami lead into an eight-point Boston advantage. They did so by attacking the Miami zone head on, taking aim at the middle of the floor like everyone has been begging for since the series tipped off. They were aggressive on both ends of the floor, forcing turnovers on defense and attacking the basket on offense. The Celtics found themselves in the bonus midway through the third quarter and rather than settle for contested threes like they did in the previous four games against Miami, they actually went to the hole and earned trips to the free throw line.
Add it all up and the Celtics put up 41 points in the third quarter, outscoring Miami by 16 in the frame. That quarter saved their postseason.
“We were playing a little bit fast and a little antsy. We were trying to win the game in the first half and we just had to stay with it, make the right play and when we did shots started going in,” said Brown. “Our defensive intensity was good and we gave up less baskets in the third quarter. We looked like the team we all know and love.”
“It starts on the defensive end,” said Jayson Tatum, who scored 17 of his game-high 31 points in the third. “They’re a great team that moves the ball well, plays with pace. I don’t think we defended as well as we could in the first half, and that’s what got our offense going in the second half. We locked in. They’re going to make shots, but we tried to make it as tough as we could.”
Boston’s solid defense led to easy offense, turning 13 Miami turnovers into 14 points. The Celtics were once again dominant in the paint, scoring 56 points under the basket. They won the rebounding battle 28-12 in the second half.
Daniel Theis was a monster with 15 points and 13 rebounds to go with his strong defense, while Enes Kanter provided eight important points in the second quarter. Attacking the hole earned Tatum 14 trips to the free throw line on Friday night, matching his postseason high, and eight of those came during The Tatum Show in the third quarter. Brown was ferocious on both ends throughout the game, and he shot better than 50 percent for the fourth straight game.
The Celtics finally looked like the Celtics again on Friday night, and they showed us a lot in the process. They finally showed that championship mettle again. They showed that they can weather a bad start. They showed that they can take a lead and not blow it.
Perhaps most important, they showed that they’re not ready to go home yet, forcing a Game 6 on Sunday night. They showed that they can be the same Celtics that raised our expectations throughout the regular season, the same Celtics that won six straight to start the playoffs, and the same Celtics that earned a hard-fought series win over the Toronto Raptors.
Now they have to show it again on Sunday night, to earn the right to try and show us again in a deciding Game 7.