1. Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a microcosm of the 2021-22 Boston Celtics season.
The Celtics weren’t playing great in the first half, yet they weren’t getting beat badly either. The Miami Heat were playing better, but they couldn’t quite shake Boston.
Much like the 2021 portion of this season’s schedule, the Celtics were down, but you had the sense that they could, and would, be better.
In the second half, it was complete and utter dominance.
This isn’t about flipping the proverbial switch. It’s just about playing up to your potential and doing things as a team. When the ball started moving more, the Celtics started rolling.
And the defense was terrific, as it was even during the dark days of 2021. That’s been the one, true constant of this team.
That has them on the verge of heading back to the NBA Finals.
2. Much like Game 4, Boston may not win this one without Derrick White stepping up in the game’s early moments. Marcus Smart picked up his second foul with 8:09 to play in the first quarter.
On his first real offensive possession, White came up to screen for Tatum. When Kyle Lowry jumped to make it a trap, White slipped the screen to get in the paint for this floater:
White’s floater is his go-to shot. On this play, he doesn’t fear Bam Adebayo. Instead, White goes right at him for the floater:
In the second quarter, with Boston’s offense really scuffling, White went attacked Duncan Robinson:
To close the half, White did a good job working the two-man game with Al Horford:
In the second half, with Boston rolling, White went end-to-end for the pure hustle play to make sure the Celtics kept the momentum:
Finally, as Boston pulled away, White went back to attacking Robinson for yet another floater in the lane:
That New Dad Energy is flowing really strong right now.
3. Boston hung around in the first half, as we said above. In the third quarter, the Celtics dominated.
Boston outscored Miami 32-16 in the third quarter. The Celtics shot 11-of-18 and only turned it over twice, after giving the ball away 10 times in the first half.
The Heat shot 4-of-24, including 1-of-14 from behind the arc in the third period. Miami only gave it up one time, but they couldn’t find any room to shoot. When they did, their shots weren’t even close.
All in all, it was one of the best quarters of two-way basketball the Celtics have played all season.
4. Leading the charge in the second half was Jaylen Brown. He scored 19 of his game-high 25 points after the break.
Speaking postgame about a miserable first half, Brown said “The first half was sh*t. We threw it away. Came out and played basketball in the second half.”
Boy, did he ever.
Sometimes all you need to get going is to get out and running and see one go in:
A little later in the quarter, Ime Udoka called an ATO designed to get Brown the ball where he could attack in some space. This is a great drive and better pass to find Grant Williams in his corner office:
On the next trip, Brown again had some space and he got to his pullup:
A bit after that, Brown isn’t messing around by over-driving the ball. He’s getting to his spots to rise and fire:
In the fourth quarter, Brown and Jayson Tatum worked together to put the Heat away. This shot is very well-contested. No matter:
On this play, Tatum gets trapped late, but he doesn’t panic and Brown drills it from the parking lot. Bonus: look at Tatum celebrating Brown’s hit here. Looks like two guys who like playing together, no?
Finally, with the game needing an exclamation point to finish things off, Jaylen Brown provided it:
Just a monster effort in the second half from Jaylen Brown to lead Boston to a pivotal road win.
5. When Al Horford is involved, good things seem to happen for the Celtics. He doesn’t even have to be the scorer to make things happen. This is a great kickout to Jayson Tatum while working against the Heat zone:
In the second half, Horford showed just how badly he wants to get to the NBA Finals. This is a coast-to-coast, “you aren’t stopping me” move from Horford for the and-1. This shot gave Boston a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish:
As Boston pulled away in the fourth quarter, Horford and Tatum hooked up again. Horford goes immediately off the catch, which doesn’t allow Max Strus to stick with Tatum. Bam Adebayo is forced to switch, but he’s too late to get to Tatum after Horford kicked it out:
6. Jayson Tatum eventually found his shot, but his value throughout the game came as a playmaker. This was an outstanding crosscourt find to Jaylen Brown:
This one is a great example of how well Tatum is seeing the floor right now. Just perfectly placed to get Al Horford a triple:
Tatum also trusts his teammates. He could have thrown up a wild attempt at the rim in this late-clock spot, but he kicks to Marcus Smart knowing that Loved and Trusted One would deliver:
7. Rob Williams is a game-changing defensive piece. Look where he starts this play and look how it ends:
And once again. Williams is helping in the paint as Gabe Vincent drives and somehow, he teleports back to the corner to block P.J. Tucker’s three-pointer:
The Celtics are a good team with a great defense without Robert Williams. They are a great team with an all-time defense with Robert Williams.
8. Ime Udoka cut his rotation in this game, as he largely played just seven players. Payton Pritchard got a little first half run, but Udoka mostly stuck with just Derrick White and Grant Williams off the bench. It didn’t seem to be anything Pritchard was or wasn’t doing, but more of a game-flow thing.
The best part? Pritchard never complained. He was locked in on the bench and celebrating all the big plays in the second half, just like everyone else.
9. The Celtics are like sharks. When they smell blood in the water, it’s over. Jayson Tatum treated Max Strus like chum here as Boston pulled away:
10. One game from the NBA Finals.
The Celtics haven’t been in this spot since 2018. That year an unexpected bunch led by veteran Al Horford, a figuring-things-out Marcus Smart, second-year player Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to the brink.
That group wasn’t ready to take that step yet. This group is.
It’s important that Boston gets Miami down early and keeps them down. As coaches like to say, “Get them thinking about vacation.” If the Celtics do that, they’ll be playing in their first NBA Finals in over a decade.
Game 6 is on Friday, May 27 in Boston at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.