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Playing loose keeps the season alive: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Heat Game 5

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Boston used a 70-point second half to stave off elimination

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Brad Stevens spoke pregame about the Celtics need to be aggressive, but under control. He also talked about facing the moment right in front of them and that “You can’t win three games at once”. Yet, Boston still came out tight and looked off for much of the first half of Game 5.

Multiple players confirmed that after Stevens talked a few tactical things, the players took over the locker room at halftime. Kemba Walker’s voice stood out most. He told his teammates “We’re playing tight. Why? What does it matter?” Walker then encouraged the Celtics to play loose and have fun in the second half.

The message seems to have gotten through, as Boston scored 70 points after halftime and lived to fight another day.

2. Speaking to starting tight, the Celtics launched a bunch of three-pointers early on. None were bad looks, but they weren’t falling. After an early timeout, the team settled down some and went on the attack. Especially Jaylen Brown.

This is a big play for a couple of reasons. First, Brown doesn’t hesitate. He gets Bam Adebayo on a switch and drives right at him for the and-1 chance:

This foul was part of a game-long issue for Adebayo with foul trouble. That led to a handful of open layups in the second half, as Adebayo had to hold back. Early fouls matter just as much as late ones do.

3. Jaylen Brown was really good late in the game too. He scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, including a flurry of eight points in a two-minute stretch to put Boston up by 14 points.

On this ATO, the first look is a Gordon Hayward/Daniel Theis pick and roll. Watch Brown kind of sneak off from the weakside to the strongside corner. Because Jimmy Butler is preoccupied with Theis on the roll, as Miami doubled Hayward, Brown is able to get to his spot cleanly. The best part of the play is seeing Brown speed up his feet right before the pass. That allows him to catch the ball already square to the basket for the shot:

The next trip finds Brown almost in the same spot. By this point in the game, Jayson Tatum has already broken down Bam Adebayo off the dribble several times. That has Duncan Robinson a step too far in help position. That’s all the daylight Brown needs:

Lastly is a play that shows something we love here in the Takeaways: Brown’s much-improved patience. He drives a smaller Tyler Herro. Instead of trying to power up and over Herro, Brown throws a fake and a spin back into an easy layup:

4. No matter the outcome of the season, Jayson Tatum’s game becoming so well-rounded bodes well for the future for Boston. He had 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Game 5 was the eighth straight game that Tatum had at least four assists and the 12th time in 16 playoff games that he’s hit that mark.

A lot of the passing improvement comes from Tatum driving the ball to make the right play vs the scoring play:

And, of course, Tatum can still score. A spin-dribble into a step-back? You can’t defend this:

With his length and quickness, Tatum is lethal on the break. Where he’s improved is with his strength to finish through contact. In years past, even slight contact like this would have knocked him off the finish:

Bonus: Look at how excited Grant Williams is at the end of the clip. He was up and screaming for his teammates throughout the second half.

5. Like in Game 3, Brad Stevens called upon Enes Kanter to give the Celtics some early minutes. This time, Boston needed his steady scoring. Kanter delivered with eight points. He scored back-to-back buckets here. Kanter did what he does best, by simply being a big target:

The next possession was more of the same:

Stevens hit the nail on the postgame: “I thought Enes Kanter’s points in the paint steadied us and gave us a chance going into halftime.”

6. Because they came out of halftime on the attack, Boston got themselves in the bonus with 8:42 to go in the third quarter. This is a situation the Celtics rarely take advantage of. That changed course in Game 5. Boston shot 10 free throws from that point on, including eight from Jayson Tatum. Following the game, Tatum was asked if that was a spot to force the issue and he said: “Yeah, definitely. That’s just thinking the game.”

7. In the second half, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were content to be playmakers and to let Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown carry the scoring the load. The two guards combined for 11 assists after the break. When Walker found Brown on the break here, it gave the Celtics their first lead of the game:

Later in the third, it was a nice skip pass in transition from Walker to Tatum for a transition triple:

8. Marcus Smart wasn’t to be outdone as a passer. Jaylen Brown loops all the way around on this cut and Smart delivers the on-time pass for the layup:

Smart could have pulled up for a three here. Instead he keeps the ball for a couple more dribbles and gets into the paint. That draws the defense and opens up Tatum for the three:

One of Smart’s best attributes has always been his court vision. He picks Goran Dragic off the dribble and immediately gets his head up to find Tatum on the runout:

9. Daniel Theis was the unsung hero of the game for Boston. He had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the game. Theis also played 23:21 of the second half, or all but 39 seconds. During that time, he delivered 11 of his points, 10 of his rebounds and two of his blocks. This block from Theis was the kind of rim protection that was missing last game:

10. Whether it was playing loose, or playing desperate, Boston was great in the second half of Game 5. On defense, they amped up the ball pressure against dribblers and passers. That led to seven forced turnovers and several baskets the other way.

The Celtics three-point defense was also terrific. They held Miami to just 3-of-18 from downtown after halftime.

And, for the most part, Boston took care of the ball. They had only 11 turnovers for the game after teetering around 20 giveaways for lots of this series.

Desperation or playing with nothing to lose? Whatever it was, the Celtics need to bring that same energy to keep the season going.

Game 6 is Sunday, September 27 at 7:30 PM ET on ESPN.