HomeSportsCeltics shift pressure to Heat in East Finals

Celtics shift pressure to Heat in East Finals

BOSTON – Confidence is a great drug.

Bolstered by avoiding an Eastern Conference final in Miami, the Celtics overwhelmed the visiting Heat in a 110-97 victory that forced a South Florida Game 6 that could have history on the other side.

“There’s pressure on them,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who scored 12 of his 21 points in the first quarter and finished two rebounds for a triple-double, said in his walk-off interview. “We were 3-0 down. Nobody thought we would win, so we’re playing freely and confidently, and we’re ready to go to Miami.”

On Thursday’s first possession of Game 5, Boston guard Marcus Smart undressed Miami center Bam Adebayo, dove for the loose ball and found Tatum darting away to a contested layup. Show, set. An avalanche ensued. The Celtics played their best basketball of the playoffs, blitzing every possession on both sides, storming to a 20-5 lead, strengthening it to 24 points and sowing doubt in the Heat for the first time in the series.

“Smart was just a beast tonight,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown after back-to-back wins.

“That was contagious,” Tatum added. “Smart played his ass tonight. Everyone did.”

“I wanted to come in and give my team some energy early, especially playing against a team like Miami,” said Smart, who swept five of his team’s 13 steals and scored 23 points on 12 shots. “You don’t want them to come in early and get that energy without fighting back. This series has been that for us. They came in every game and knocked us over a little bit early, and we did that tonight.” .”

Must have been a savage Top golf outing the Celtics reveled after falling 0-3 to the eight seeds. Once they retired in Game 3, it felt impossible that they could rediscover the identity that got them to the 2022 NBA Finals in time to salvage this season and avoid questions about the future of their coach and roster.

That impossibility — becoming the first NBA team to come back from a 3-0 deficit — now feels plausible.

Reports surfaced of dysfunction in Boston’s locker room after the series’ embarrassing start, including one that suggested “this Celtics team feels like a bunch tired of fake liking each otherWhether there’s truth to those reports or not, they seem to have goaded their players.

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“We have a lot of love for each other from head to toe,” said Boston’s Derrick White, who joined Tatum, Brown and Smart with more than 20 points in Game 5. “We’re in and we know it’s a still a long way to go and we have a lot of work to do, but it’s always fun to compete with the guys in our dressing room.”

“We didn’t imagine being in this position, 3-0 down, but when adversity hits you get to see what a team is really made of,” said Brown. “It couldn’t get any worse than being 3-0 down, but we didn’t look around, we didn’t go in different directions. We stuck together. We doubled what we do best in defence, and now I think that it’s a series. We have to take it game by game and keep playing.”

“We have a really connected group,” said Tatum, pretending to be unfamiliar with the reports. “We’ve got a group of determined, tough guys that I know I can count on. I know I’m going to look left and right when all hope seems lost, when the game is on the line. We stand with our backs against the wall and everyone will go down fighting and give it all they’ve got. That’s contagious because whether it’s ignorant beliefs, we really believe at all times that we still have a chance, that anything can happen.”

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum dunks during the first half of their victory against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Everything that went wrong for Boston in the first three games has gone right in the last two. Both offense and defense switched from performing at the worst level in the three losses (110.6 offensive rating and 124.4 defensive rating) to performing at the best level in the two wins (123.5 and 108.3) . Some of that is a progression to average, but a lot of it is just the Celtics getting back to what they’re doing.

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(Or didn’t in the case of head coach Joe Mazzulla, who starts calling timely timeouts.)

Defensively, they run Miami’s shooters out of the arc, stop biting every fake Jimmy Butler pump, and try to snatch the ball from Adebayo every time he puts it on the ground. Driving offensively, they kick and swing in open 3-point looks (34-of-84 in Games 4 and 5); break the zone by finding willing and able passers-by at the spike; and exploit their size (32 resit points since Tuesday).

Brown’s return to form as an All-NBA two-way talent on Thursday was another revelation. He shot 50% from the field for the first time since Game 5 of the second round, playing lockdown defense, often facing Butler, whose playoff-low 14 points demonstrated his age at 33 for the first time in the series.

Heat point guard Gabe Vincent’s absence – along with injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo – exposed a lack of depth. Kyle Lowry started in place of Vincent and took the blame for Miami’s abysmal start to Game 5. “I just wasn’t aggressive enough,” said the 37-year-old. The presence of Max Strus and Kevin Love in the base unit offers too many weak spots to attack. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra left Love in favor of journeyman Haywood Highsmith who was their leading scorer in the game for a time.

The talent gap that everyone expected in all series is emerging with every degree of confidence. In the third quarter alone, Al Horford gets Lowry on his back and spins into a dunk. Brown beats Strus baseline for another. Tatum rises above Strus from the midrange. Walls come crashing down on a Heat team that was once solid.

“One of our assistants put it in great perspective,” said Mazzulla, whose Celtics have won their last seven elimination games in the East. “The seasons are nine months long and we just had a bad week. Sometimes you have a bad week at work. We obviously didn’t pick the best time to have a bad week, but we did and we stick together.” and fight like hell to keep it alive, and the guys really come together.

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As Duncan Robinson – one of the few bright spots for Miami in Game 5 – left his postgame interview, someone in the hallway asked him if he had guaranteed the Heat to close out the series on Saturday.

“I’ll leave that to Jimmy,” he said.

Sure, Butler, feeling no pressure – embodying that pressure – said, “We’ll always stay positive, knowing we can and will win this series. We’re just going to have to wrap it up at home.”

Butler can only carry so much. The tide is turning and Miami is about to succumb to the undertow. Down that same corridor, the knowing smiles of Heat executives Pat Riley and Alonzo Mourning had faded after stunning Games 1 and 2 wins in Boston, replaced by gleeful claps from Brown and Horford to Grant Williams’ behind (each more enthusiastic than the last) during the postgame interview from the Celtics forward.

“Who Cares About the Vote?” said Spoelstra, dismissing the idea that his team’s confidence dwindles with every Boston waxing. “We have a gnarled group. I think a lot of that is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals. One game doesn’t lead to the next.”

Tell that to the Boston home crowd, who got another chance to applaud a once-faltering favorite, arriving early, reaching a deafening roar at the tip and chanting “C’s in seven” by the end of the night. By no means does the Heat want to return to that environment carrying the weight of a 150-0 record for NBA teams leading 3-0 in a series that fills the space between their wavering minds and those 17 championship flags in the rafters.

“It’s a blessing to be able to play this game every night,” said Brown. “It’s a blessing to be in the playoffs. They’re highs and lows, they’re intense moments. There are times when you’re angry. There are times when you’re really excited. It’s great. These next two games should be fun.” .”

“It’s not two games,” Smart corrected. “It’s one game for us.”

And then back home, where anything is possible in a Game 7.

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