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Stevens after big Game 5 win: “I knew we had good competitive character”

After getting their heart ripped out in Game 3 and never finding it in Game 4, the Celtics responded with a resounding win to take control of the series.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors - Game Five Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

After two losses marred by lack of energy and misfortune, Boston took control of Game 5 and the series with a resounding 111-89 victory on Monday night. After the game, Brad Stevens jokingly mentioned not knowing that it was Labor Day, but he was sure to note his team’s work on the floor.

“We were really active. We were really just trying to play hard, as hard as we could. They missed a couple of shots. We missed some shots in the first quarter but we were playing with great purpose,” Stevens said of Boston’s strong start. “You could feel that from the get go. So you just hope that you would knock enough in to kind of get something going and we did.”

Boston held Toronto to 4-for-20 shooting en route to a 25-11 lead in the first quarter that would balloon to 30 in the third. Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse and Kyle Lowry both talked post-game about Toronto’s opening offense being good and that they were just missing shots, but Boston had a different perspective.

“We competed really hard on both ends. We were just really connected,” Jayson Tatum said of Boston’s hot start. “It helped that we hit some shots. We got guys feeling good about themselves and we just continued to build on that throughout the game.”

Tatum did not shoot the ball particularly well, hitting 5-of-15 from the field, but he continues to be aggressive with his drives and getting to the line. He finished with 18 points, including 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

As a team, the Celtics scored a whopping 48 points in the paint. In Games 3 and 4 where their three-point shooting evaporated, Boston picked up the slack attacking the basket with 50 and 44 points respectively. On a night where they hit nearly their season average from behind the arc (11-for-34), a combined effort to hit the Raptors at every angle contributed to the double digit win.

“It’s a good feeling when you can gameplan, talk about something, and then go out there and do it, but also, it’s frustrating that if we can do it, why don’t we do it every time? Some of it is human nature,” Tatum said of the team’s highs and lows in this second round series. “But us as professionals, we just got to take more responsibility. It’s not an easy task. They’re the defending champs. It’s the playoffs. It’s going to be tough. But if you want to keep playing, more often than not, you got to go out there and compete.”

That’s a lesson personified by the bounce back game of Jaylen Brown. After admitting to a missed rotation at the end of Game 3 that lead to OG Anunoby’s game-winner and a uncharacteristic Game 4 performance when he hit just four of his eighteen shots, Brown returned to form in resounding fashion.

He’d finish with a team-high 27. When asked about how he approached Game 5 after underperforming in the last two, Brown said, “I didn’t change anything just because good games, bad games, ups and downs, it’s life. It’s how it happens. Last game, I feel like I got some good looks that didn’t go down. This game, I got some good looks, they went down.

Same mindset was to keep shooting if I’m open, don’t hesitate. Believe in myself, I think my coaching staff and organization believes in me, so we’ve just got to keep going.”

Of course, it’s just one game.

The Celtics are one win away from potentially their third Eastern Conference Finals in four years, but if you listened to them after the game, you wouldn’t know it. They’re not taking this 3-2 lead over the defending champs lightly. Nick Nurse spoke about his team’s ability to come back after a tough loss and that’s the same kind of mentality and character that the Celtics are trying to establish.

“It’s not about winning a game. It’s not about winning three in a series now. It’s about the process of growth when you show that resilience. That’s what it’s all about.

You can’t go through the playoffs without having heartbreakers. You can’t go through the playoffs without something bad happening. And you just have to be able to respond. I knew we had good competitive character. You really saw that on display tonight,” Brad Stevens said.

With the youngest roster remaining in the bubble, Stevens relied heavily on his veterans. In the end, Boston’s starters outscored Toronto’s 93-45. After utilizing bench players like Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, and Robert Williams through the first four games, Stevens relied heavily on his best five (plus the 31-year-old Brad Wanamaker) for most of the game. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker all played around 35 minutes in the blowout with Daniel Theis and Wanamaker at nearly 30 each.

In the tunnel before the game, Walker was seen pounding on his teammates’ chests.

“I just wanted the guys to be tough. I just thought we got out-toughed last game. They just played harder than us and I know what we are capable of,” Walker said. “We are capable of playing hard and that’s a skill. A lot of guys on that team have that skill and have that ability so, I just checked my guys heart and they showed it. Big time.”

They’ll have to show that heart again on Wednesday night.