*Editor's Note: The Boston Celtics saved their season Friday night by defeating the Miami Heat, 121-108. NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin shares her observations from Game 5.
So that’s what Celtics Basketball looks like?!
It’d been so long since we’ve seen it, I couldn’t believe my eyes when the Celtics opened the third quarter on a 20-5 run. Between swarming defense, team rebounding and, most importantly, ball movement, the Celtics finally played like the team we expected to see in this series, outscoring the Heat 41-28 in the the quarter.
Inside the huddle going into the fourth ESPN cameras captured Head Coach Brad Stevens telling his team, "That’s the first time I’ve seen Celtics Basketball in a while." Asked about it post-game Stevens reiterated how much he hates those microphones in the playoffs, and to be fair, the network aired almost his entire pre-game speech as well, but inside that huddle Stevens simply said what we were all thinking.
And what is the definition of Celtics Basketball? For this team it starts on the defensive end of the floor. Jayson Tatum said, defense is “what got our offense going, us going in the second half. We just locked in, were all on the same page.” Finally.
Kemba Walker Leader
Boston went on to outscore Miami by 20 points in the second half. I asked Jaylen Brown what was said inside the locker room at the break. He told me, “What I remember from halftime was Kemba [Walker] saying we just need to settle down a little bit.”
We don’t talk much about Walker as a vocal leader on this team. He’s told me repeatedly that he’s just trying to be himself. But, Walker has had a couple moments since the hiatus -- only revealed by his teammates, mind you -- when he spoke up and said the things that needed to be said. Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck without even being asked praised Walker’s leadership when I spoke with him before Game 6.
And, Walker’s balky left knee isn’t an issue. Grousbeck said, “Kemba is fine physically and emotionally. And I think he is a winner, he’s proven that throughout his career. And a great teammate. He’s like everybody’s favorite person in the league. You ask players in the league, they love the guy and they would want him to be leading their team. We’ve got him on our team and we’re thrilled.”
Jaylen Brown Life Coach
I said it on Celtics "Post Game Live" after the loss in Game 4: I want Jaylen Brown to be my life coach.
Talking to Brown after Game 2 and Game 4, both crushing defeats, he never sounded down. He was genuinely grateful and excited for the opportunity to play another game and get better. Brown backed that up in Game 5, often times in the first half being the only player who would drive the ball into the paint. He finished second on the team in scoring with 28 points and even blew a few kisses to the Heat bench after hitting back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics, by the way, are now 17-1 this season when Brown scores at least 25 points. I asked Jaylen before the game how he continues to stay so positive. Jaylen says it’s really not that difficult for him. “At the end of the day, things don’t go your way, that’s life. But, it’s just basketball. There’s a lot of stuff in the world that’s not going peoples’ way. So, to be honest, it’s nothing really to hang your head about.”
As for the chance to become the third Celtics team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit Jaylen says, “I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s gonna be a great challenge. It could be a great story. We all just gotta be up for it. And I think we are.”
Brad Stevens Swearing (kind of)
Speaking of coming all the way back, Stevens doesn’t want to hear it.
His message echoed by the players is to take it one game at a time. Stevens is also tired of hearing all the criticism, not about himself, but about his team. In some of his most scathing comments yet, Stevens said post game, “Our deal was to come out and play, come out and compete, give it our best shot ... When we don't get caught up in that other crap, we're trying to be our best.”
This is a little tongue in cheek, but I can tell you from covering Stevens for his entire tenure with the Celtics, when he drops the C-word in a press conference, it is notable. You may not be offended, but “crap” was a bad word in my house growing up. My favorite non-swear word I’ve ever heard Stevens use inside the huddle is, “gumption.” It was pretty early on in his NBA career. And, I can’t say for certain, but I don’t remember a great response on the court. And, honestly, I haven’t heard him use it since.