Celtics Inch Closer to Finals With Ugly Game 5 Win

MIAMI — Don’t watch this tape. Bury it. Burn it. Purge it from the NBA archives. Heat-Celtics on Wednesday wasn’t a game—it was a rock fight. If it was a TV show, it would have been canceled at halftime. If it was a movie, it would have won a Razzie. ESPN would have been forgiven for cutting into the game for special coverage of Tom Brady’s (alleged) golf shot.

Boston won Game 5 of these Eastern Conference Finals, taking a 3–2 series lead. Viewers lost. It was 19–17 Miami after the first quarter. It was 42–37 Heat at the half. Boston shot 25% from three through two quarters.

That’s downright scorching compared to Miami’s 19%. The Celtics had nearly as many turnovers in the first half (10) as they did in all of Game 4 (11). Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shot 19%—the worst combined field goal percentage in any half this season.

In the second half, the Celtics blew it open. Flip the script was Ime Udoka’s message in the locker room, and Boston did just that. It outscored Miami 32–16 in the third quarter. It sliced the turnovers in half. Brown’s first half was a disaster.

He had six points. He had four of the Celtics’ 10 turnovers. At one point, Udoka pulled Brown aside and asked him if he was surprised that the handsy Heat were reaching and poking the ball away.

In the second half, Brown responded. He had six points in the third quarter. He had a team-high 13 points in the fourth. He made five of his six shots in the final 12 minutes, including three of four threes. Asked about what changed for Brown, Udoka deadpanned, “He didn’t turn it over.”

“First half was s---,” Brown said. “Threw it away. Came out and played basketball in the second half.”

All season Boston has leaned on its NBA-best defense. On Wednesday, it’s what kept it in the game. The first half was a mess. Miami had 26 points in the paint. It had 16 off second chance shots. It had nine offensive rebounds, giving the Heat a 26–21 edge overall.

But Miami was only up five. The Heat’s offense is a wreck. Jimmy Butler, battling a knee injury, has been limited to a screener and part-time playmaker. “Butler wasn’t looking to score,” said Udoka. Kyle Lowry has no burst.

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Tyler Herro, is out with a groin injury. In Game 5 Miami’s two leading scorers were Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent. The Heat took 45 three-pointers. They made seven of them. Against a terrorizing Celtics defense, that isn’t enough.