Throughout the playoffs, the Celtics have absorbed blows. They overcame injuries. They lost games. They walked to the brink and stared over the edge into the offseason, and each time, they managed to step back away and continue.
In Monday’s Game 5, the Warriors hit the Celtics with a haymaker. For the first time in the playoffs, an opponent landed back-to-back hits against the Celtics — they were 7-0 after a loss prior. Steph Curry didn’t shoot well. The Celtics roared back from a 16-point deficit and took the lead in the third quarter. And still, the Warriors won by double digits, once again sending both teams’ starters to the bench in the closing minutes.
The Celtics aren’t finished. They have earned the benefit of the doubt with their resilience over the last few months. They have been the better team every series — including this one — when they don’t turn the ball over, and they finished with 18 on Monday.
But Game 5 did feel a bit different as the Celtics fell apart. An exhausted Jayson Tatum flung up airballs in the fourth quarter. Jaylen Brown looked bottled up at the worst possible time.
If the Celtics force a Game 7, it will require an unprecedented force of will.
“We know what we need to do,” Robert Williams said. “We know what we’ve been messing up on. Like you said, we’ve been here before. Got the most confidence in everybody in that locker room.”
2. Andrew Wiggins put together a phenomenal performance with 26 points and 13 rebounds on 13-for-23 shooting. His biggest basket of the game may have been his last one — an exclamation-point dunk that pushed the Warriors’ lead to 15 with two minutes remaining.
Steph Curry is, of course, the MVP if the Warriors win the series. Andrew Wiggins, however, has been perhaps the Warriors’ second-best player.
“When he first came here, and I’ll never forget, it was when Thibs [Tom Thibodeau] wasn’t with the Knicks, and Thibs was like, ‘You’re going to love him,’” Draymond Green said. “He competes. He defends. And [Thibodeau] was telling us Jimmy [Butler] loved him. And we all know how Jimmy Butler is. If you have any softness to you, Jimmy don’t like you. That’s how Jimmy is cut.”
Butler and Wiggins famously played together in Minnesota, where Butler’s tenure ended ugly.
3. The Celtics’ stars might (should) kick themselves until Game 6 for their struggles — Tatum scored 27 points and shot efficiently but turned the ball over four times and missed a lot of shots down the stretch, while Marcus Smart finished with four turnovers.
But nobody struggled more than Jaylen Brown, who scored 18 points but shot 5-for-18 and turned it over five times.
If there’s some good news for the Celtics after Game 5, it’s how different the game might have been if any of their stars played to their potential.
4. Much like the Warriors couldn’t take advantage of Tatum’s poor shooting in Game 1, the Celtics couldn’t take advantage of Curry’s slow night (7-for-22, 0-for-9 from 3-point range). Like Tatum, Curry got his teammates involved and opened up the game for everyone else with his passing.
The Celtics have won games against the Warriors when Curry goes off, but — again — Monday’s game was a missed opportunity.
5. On a night when the Celtics got to the free-throw line 31 times — more than twice as many as the Warriors — they only produced 21 points. The Celtics had plenty of other issues, but missing free throws is an easy way to put yourself in a hole and deflate your offense.
6. The Celtics once again appeared to get caught up in complaining about officiating, to Ime Udoka’s annoyance. While multiple calls appeared to go against the Celtics, Udoka preached calm (even though he picked up a technical).
“Probably something we shouldn’t do as much and we all did too much,” Udoka said, noting also that Tony Brothers “didn’t like how I pointed at him” in the second half on an odd interaction between the two.
Al Horford added that all the complaining was not the Celtics’ best moment.
“As you guys know, I feel like we’ve been able to fend those things off, especially throughout the playoffs,” Horford said. “For whatever reason tonight I feel like it got to us. It’s one of those things that we kind of brought it back. We were able to focus back in, but we can never let that get to us.”
7. Jordan Poole had an odd third quarter — the Celtics targeted him constantly, but he buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that put the Warriors up by one heading into the fourth quarter despite a nice performance by the Celtics in the third.
“That’s a tough shot,” Horford said. “Shake his hand. Go down the other way.”
8. Derrick White and Payton Pritchard struggled from the field — 0-for-7 from the field combined. The rest of the Celtics’ bench scored just four total points between four players before garbage time. On a night when the starters struggled to both shoot and hang on to the ball for lengthy stretches, the Celtics were remarkably close heading into the fourth quarter.
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