What do you do when you’re two quarters away from elimination? If you’re the Boston Celtics, you put together one of your most impressive runs of the entire season. The Celtics pulled off a major come-from-behind victory over the Miami Heat in Friday’s Game 5, but there’s a lot of work ahead of them before television executives can even start thinking about a Celtics-Lakers Finals. All of that classic Bird vs. Magic footage will have to be stuffed back in the vault if the Celtics can’t find a way to beat the Heat two more times.
There were times on Friday that the Celtics looked like they were ready to leave the Magic Kingdom, going 1-for-12 from the floor. They were down seven at the half, which was a minor miracle in itself. The Heat absolutely outplayed them on every single level and should have been leading by double digits.
It was Kemba Walker, who the team signed to replace Kyrie Irving both as a point guard and as a potential leader, who spoke up in the locker room during that break. Jaylen Brown brought it up after the game: “What I remember of halftime is Kemba saying we just need to settle down a little bit.” While the effect of locker room speeches on players tends to be overrated by those of us who are tasked with piecing together coherent narratives out of the chaos that is team sports, there’s no question that this second-half Celtics team looked like an entirely different beast when they took to the floor.
The Celtics stunned the Heat with a 41-point third quarter and didn’t look back, winning 121-108, forcing a Game 6 that Miami would really have preferred to avoid playing. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the talented young core of this tough team, combined for 58 points. In his 43 minutes of court time, Tatum also came up with 10 rebounds and six assists, while contributing his underrated defense.
It was fun to watch. The problem is that now they have to do it again.
The Heat, up 3-2 in the series, are still in prime position to advance to the NBA Finals. By taking advantage of a clearly tired Celtics team in the first two games of the series, they have put Boston in a position where they have no margin of error. The Celtics have more talent, even Miami’s Jimmy Butler has acknowledged as much, but the Heat have consistently outplayed them. This Heat team might not be able to blow out these Celtics, but that doesn’t matter, they just need to be a single point better when the clock winds down, either today or in the next game. They would prefer today.
Basketball is a team sport, obviously, but it’s impossible to overstate how much an individual player can take over a game, particularly come playoff time. When a team is under pressure, say a scenario where they are a single loss away from elimination, all eyes turn to their best player. The Celtics have a luxury in that they have several candidates: Kemba Walker spent most of his basketball life as That Guy. Jaylen Brown has been their most consistent player, that one weird game against the Toronto Raptors aside. Gordon Hayward was that player with the Utah Jazz and he would be for the Celtics if we were living in an alternate universe where he wasn’t continually being bombarded with untimely injuries.
Let’s not complicate things here. The main plot of the 2019-20 Celtics season has been Tatum’s emergence as their MVP. He stepped up in Game 5 and they are going to need something similar from him here in Game 6. Tatum having a huge game won’t guarantee a Celtics victory—this Heat team has shown that it can finagle a win in any situation—but they won’t have any shot of seeing Game 7 if he falters. That may seem like too much pressure to put on a 22-year old, especially after seeing what LeBron James just did at age 35, but perhaps it’s time for youth to shine.
Source: Forbes – Business