Here are the takeaways as Jaylen Brown and the Celtics outlasted the Heat 93-80 in a rock-fight Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
1. After Game 5, Ime Udoka was asked what the biggest difference was between First Half Jaylen Brown and Second Half Jaylen Brown.
“He didn’t turn it over,” Udoka said shortly, and then paused to wait for the next question.
In a series defined by its simplicity, Brown’s Game 5 was a microcosm. In the first half, he drove into a crowd repeatedly and was stripped every single time. The box score credited him with four turnovers, but he had five – scorers just gave one to Al Horford. Over and over, he made the one mistake that doomed the Celtics in Games 1 and 3: Against the Heat, you simply can’t afford to turn it over, and Brown kept turning it over.
Then, to Udoka’s point, he stopped. In the third quarter, he drove the length of the floor and scored through a foul in transition. After three straight missed shots, he finished the quarter with a baseline-drive assist to Grant Williams, a beautiful step-back jumper and a turnaround jumper that boosted him to six points in the period. He did not turn the ball over.
In the fourth, he rattled in a spot-up 3-pointer. Then he rattled in another. Then he canned a 30-footer as Jayson Tatum threw his hands out in celebration that pushed the lead to 23. Then he smashed a one-handed dunk over Bam Adebayo, who stepped aside in an egregious business decision.
Once again, he didn’t turn it over.
“Just had to get settled in, keep being aggressive, stop turning the ball over,” Brown said.
Sometimes this game is maddeningly simple.
“Any time Jaylen is on the second side, he’s lethal – whether it’s the catch-and-shoot or pull-ups,” Udoka said when the jilted reporter from earlier justifiably asked him to expand. “We found him coming out of timeouts for some quick drives that got him going.
“Whether he takes a tough pull-up, some guys are tough shot makers, and he’s one of them. We’d rather have him do that 100 percent of the time rather than turn the ball over. We just told him to get shots up, see the crowd, get off the ball, but be aggressive when we need it and he did it. “
Brown has had some ugly moments in these playoffs – including some in Game 5 – but when the Celtics needed him to take them one step closer to the Finals, he delivered.
2. Jayson Tatum spent much of the game grabbing at his right shoulder after this play with Kyle Lowry.
Udoka told ESPN after the first quarter that he suffered another stinger, but something clearly seemed to be going on. He was short on all five of his misses – including two layups – in the first quarter after his injury.
“It was bothering me. I got Nick [Sang], my trainer, he takes care of me, “Tatum said after the game. “We just figure it out.”
3. Without Derrick White in the first half, the Celtics would have been down by a lot more than five. He ran pick-and-rolls with Tatum as the roll man, and when the Heat jumped out to prevent a switch, he got floaters in the paint.
As a passer, he made all of the right decisions – an extra pass to Brown for a 3-pointer, a lob to Horford in transition, a well-timed pass to Tatum in transition.
“D-White for us was unbelievable tonight,” Al Horford said. “He was great. His energy, his activity, just such a smart player, made really big plays. People probably won’t talk about it enough, but for me he was huge. “
White finished with 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting and five assists.
4. You won’t see defense much more dominant than this.
The Heat have a lot to figure out offensively before Friday.
5. Robert Williams didn’t come out of the locker room right away after halftime – a worrisome development for the Celtics, since he has been dealing with knee soreness.
“Just got an extra stretch at halftime,” Udoka said. “Kind of uncommon. When he was going to come out, he just wanted to extra stretch. Give him a little more time. Went with Grant to start the third. Nothing specific. Just a little body overall tightness, cramping, whatever it may be. “
To hear Grant Williams tell it?
“He was in the bathroom, I think,” Williams told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin, chuckling. “Just there to have his back.”
Marcus Smart, meanwhile, returned from a sprained ankle.
“He knows how to play through it, with an injury,” Udoka said. “You could tell he was not as explosive or quick, but what he does on the defensive end and just in general being the leader out there, carries over well for us regardless of the stat sheet.”
6. The Celtics, of course, have been here before – just one game away from the Finals with two chances to get there. They were two games away in 2020. They were this close in 2018. In 2012, the previous iteration of the Celtics had a pair of chances against a Heat team that featured LeBron James.
Nothing is guaranteed. Still, Tatum admitted this year feels a little different.
“My rookie year, being up 3-2, you know, obviously different team now,” he said. “I’m a lot better, JB is. We’re just older. And we’ve been through those tough times.
“But the mindset and the talk that we had after the game was we were down 3-2 last time, had to go on the road and win a Game 6, and we did. We can’t think that it’s over with. We need to go back home like we’re down 3-2, with that sense of urgency that it’s a must-win game, not relaxing because we’re up. “
Brown has been to the conference finals four times now in his career.
“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “Leave everything on the floor. You don’t want any feelings of regret. We got an opportunity to do something with this group that’s special, so let’s not take that for granted. A
“At the same time, you know, just breathe, relax. Sometimes it can be a little bit too tense. We know how important these moments are. But just come out and play our game and we’ll be fine. “
The Celtics will take their first crack at a trip to the Finals in Game 6 at TD Garden on Wednesday.
Sign up for Celtics updates
Get breaking news and analysis delivered to your inbox during basketball season.