Through four games of the Eastern Conference Finals, single quarters had defined entire games for the Celtics at times – and not in a good way. The team’s third quarter collapse in Game 1 and slow start in Game 3 arguably cost them two games, leaving the series tied 2-2 as the action shifted back to Miami for Game 5.
Just like the other odd numbered games, Game 5’s outcome was heavily impacted by a single quarter. But unlike Games 1 and 3, this time things swung in the Celtics favor.
Both teams came out clunky in the first half, perhaps drained because of the physical nature and condensed schedule of this series. Neither side mustered enough offense to reach the 20-point mark in the first quarter, and Miami led 42- 37 at halftime. However, things flipped in the third quarter, with the Celtics outscoring the Heat 32-16. That proved to be the difference in the 93-80 win.
The biggest change between the two halves? Turnovers. The Celtics turned the ball over 15 times in the game, with 10 of those coming in the first 24 minutes of action.
“We weren’t playing our best in the first half, in a lot of ways,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “Across the board, too many turnovers, offensive rebounds, second chance points.” Of Miami’s 42 first half points, 12 came off turnovers and 16 off offensive rebounds.
“What was so important is that we cut down the turnovers,” he continued. “To be that close, and knowing we didn’t play our best in the first half, we talked about flipping the script and playing a really good second half – a really clean second half.”
For Jaylen Brown in particular, the first half was a struggle. He had just six points on two of seven shooting, and was responsible for four of those turnovers.
Asked after the game what the biggest difference was for Brown between the first half and second half, Udoka had a five word answer. “He didn’t turn it over.”
Brown, during his postgame availability, expanded on that change a bit more.
“Just got to get settled in. Kept being aggressive, stopped turning the ball over,” he said. “As the game wears on some of that energy, some of that intensity starts to wear off so the game opens up a little bit. The game opened up for me in the second half. I didn’t want to get down, I didn’t want to look into the past – think that this game was over. My team needed me to come out and respond. First half was (expletive). Threw it away, came out and played basketball in the second half.”
Brown did, in fact ‘come out and play basketball in the second half.’ He scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in that second half, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Over the final 24 minutes, he shot 8-of-12 from the floor, 3-of-5 from deep, and didn’t turn the ball over once.
The second half also saw a big turnaround for Jayson Tatum. After hooting 1-for-9 with just four points in the first half, Tatum came out of the locker room and shot 6-for-11, accounting for 18 points. Those 18 were split evenly with nine in the third quarter and nine in the fourth quarter. Overall, he flirted with a triple-double finishing with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists in 44 minutes of action.
After the game, Tatum brought things back to that concept of ‘winning quarters,’ which again has become a theme in this series.
“We definitely talked about starting and having a good third quarter, and we’re aware of that and we talked about that. So we wanted to start off well, limit our turnovers, and give ourselves a chance,” he said, discussing the team’s conversations at halftime. “We had too many turnovers, we didn’t like how we were playing, and we were still only down five. Basically, we just talked about how much does it mean to us. We know all the plays and things like that. It’s all the 50/50 balls and hustle plays, things like that, about toughness and effort. So that’s all we talked about, playing better, taking care of the ball, and just competing because we know what’s on the line.”
‘What’s on the line’ for the Celtics is their first trip to the NBA Finals in just over a decade – a possibility that is now just potentially one game away. The Celtics will have a chance to make that possibility a reality on Friday, when the host Miami for Game 6 in Boston with a chance to close things out and not have to return to South Beach. Coverage of Game 6 begins at 8 p.m. ET on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network leading up to a scheduled 8:30 p.m. tip-off.