The Celtics showed the heart of a champion Monday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Raptors.
Boston, which suffered back-to-back losses in Games 3 and 4 after coming within 0.5 seconds of seizing a commanding 3-0 series lead, could’ve tumbled to the canvas and turtled in Game 5. After all, the Celtics mustered up very little resistance Saturday in their most recent defeat, which evened the best-of-seven set at two games apiece.
Instead, the Celtics responded with a vicious haymaker, beating the Raptors 111-89 behind an excellent effort on both ends of the floor.
Boston now is one win away from knocking off the defending champs and five wins away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
“It’s not about winning a game. It’s not about winning three in a series now. It’s about just the process of growth when you show that resilience,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after Game 5. “I think that that’s what it’s all about. You can’t go through a playoffs without having heartbreakers. You can’t go through a playoffs without something bad happening. And you just have to be able to respond. That’s what I take away. I knew we had good competitive character. You really saw that on display tonight.”
Six Celtics players — including all five starters — scored in double-digits as Boston took a 3-2 series lead. Jaylen Brown led the way with 27 points, followed by Kemba Walker (21), Jayson Tatum (18), Daniel Theis (15), Brad Wanamaker (15) and Marcus Smart (12).
But it was Boston’s effort on defense that set the tempo in Game 5. The Celtics held the Raptors to just 11 points in the first quarter and opened a 62-35 lead before halftime.
“It’s a good feeling when you can game plan, talk about something and then go out there and do it,” Tatum told reporters. “But also it’s frustrating — if we can do it, then why don’t we do it every time?
“Some of it’s human nature. But us, as professionals, we’ve just got to take our responsibility. It’s not an easy task, they’re the defending champs, this is the playoffs, it’s gonna be tough. But if you wanna keep playing, more often than not you’ve gotta go out there and compete.”
The Raptors showed life in the third quarter, beginning the second half with a 10-5 run. It was unsustainable, however, as Stevens called a timeout roughly four minutes in that allowed the Celtics to quickly regroup and ultimately fend off any potential comeback.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is just trying to stay in the moment, play the possession as well as we can,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we want to start (the second half) better than we did. But even when we called the timeout, we were only minus two or three. When you have a big lead like that, as long as it’s not minus 10, minus eight, you can manage it a little bit. But it’s more of the thought of, ‘We have to play the possession better, we have to play every possession better.’ “
That said, the Raptors are down. They’re not out.
“The job’s not finished yet,” Brown cautioned after Game 5. “We’ve still got a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Maybe so. Still, for one night, when it mattered most, the Celtics looked completely capable of going toe to toe with anybody in the NBA.