Kemba Walker walked around and checked his teammates’ hearts before Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors.
The message was clear: The Boston Celtics needed to show a pulse Monday night after a lifeless effort in Game 4 led to Toronto evening the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series at two games apiece.
Well, the C’s responded to Walker’s gesture in a major way, playing with a ton of energy, particularly on the defensive end, en route to a 111-89 win inside the Orlando bubble.
“I just wanted guys to be tough,” Walker told reporters after Game 5. “I just thought we got out-toughed last game. They just played harder than us, and I know what we’re capable of.
“We’re capable of playing hard, and that’s a skill. A lot of guys on that team have that skill, have that ability. So I had to check my guys’ heart. And they showed it. Big time.”
The Celtics jumped out to a 25-11 lead in the first quarter. They led 62-35 at halftime, with Walker placing an exclamation point on the tenacious first-half effort by drilling a floater at the buzzer.
“We just played really hard, made the right plays, played together, made the extra pass and just made shots,” Walker said. “That’s what it comes down to — whenever you have the opportunities, just knocking it down. I think tonight our defense really set up our offense, and it worked out for us.”
Here are some other notes from Boston’s Game 5 victory, which pushed Toronto to the brink of elimination.
— The Celtics benefitted from a balanced offensive attack, with six players — including all five starters — scoring in double-digits.
Jaylen Brown led the way with 27 points, followed by Walker (21), Jayson Tatum (18), Daniel Theis (15), Brad Wanamaker (15) and Marcus Smart (12)
— Wanamaker provided a spark off the bench, shooting 5-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.
“When they go to their zones and they go to things like that, he’s got such a great feel for the game, such great instincts, that he can just kinda adjust with the flow,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters, noting Wanamaker made it difficult to take him out of Game 5 thanks to a solid all-around performance. “So I thought he did a great job, impacted us quite a bit.”
— Theis was exceptional in Game 5 after retaining his spot in Boston’s starting lineup. He didn’t miss a shot (5-for-5), grabbed eight rebounds and really helped set the tone defensively.
“We were really active. We were really just trying to play as hard as we could,” Stevens said. “They missed a couple of shots, we missed some shots in the first quarter, but we were playing with great purpose — you could feel that from the get-go. And so you just hoped that you would knock enough in to kinda get something going, and we did.”
— Theis also took this kick to the face like a champ.
— Tatum downplayed any concern regarding his wrist after it appeared he was dealing with some discomfort.
“Nah, just fell on it the other day,” Tatum said after the game. “It’s alright.”
— Gordon Hayward has returned to the Orlando bubble. He wasn’t on Boston’s bench, though, as he’s currently quarantined in a hotel until it’s determined he doesn’t have COVID-19.
“That’s my understanding, and I don’t know when the quarantine period will end,” Stevens said. “I think they determined through a set of doctors and different questions and all that stuff how long that is. But my understanding right now is, I know he’s back but I haven’t seen him because he’s been in a room.”
— Speaking of the bubble, the concept of time at Walt Disney World is, well, nonexistent.
“Somebody told me it’s Labor Day,” Stevens said. “That’s wild.”