Inexplicably, the Celtics started Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the most meaningful matchup in the careers of every player on their roster, without much energy.
As the Warriors raced out to a 24-8 lead, Boston lacked confidence and struggled to get in rhythm offensively, primarily due to a lack of on and off-ball activity.
The Celtics played decent in the second quarter, closing the gap to eight points with 2:34 left, but Golden State extended its advantage to 12 entering halftime.
But in the third quarter, Boston played with the energy, assertiveness, and ball movement required to head home with a 3-2 series lead. The Celtics outscored the Warriors 19-4 nearly halfway into the frame but entered the fourth down one after Jordan Poole banked in a three at the buzzer.
With Boston’s second unit contributing four points before Ime Udoka emptied his bench towards the end of the game, the Celtics’ starters, especially their perimeter players, were on the floor nearly the entire second half. In the fourth quarter, it was clear the gas tank was on empty, and Boston wasn’t about to land another counterpunch.
Jaylen Brown, who registered 18 points, nine rebounds, and four assists but also led all participants with five turnovers, said of playing almost the entire second half: “I wanted to be on the floor, and I trusted me to be out there. Over the course of the game, we made some good plays; we were in it, it felt like we just couldn’t get over the hump tonight. Tough loss, but we’ve got an opportunity to even it back up on our home floor, push to a Game 7, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
Jayson Tatum finished with a game-high 27 points, a team-best ten rebounds, and dished out four assists. However, he also committed four turnovers, and in the final frame, with fatigue taking over, he had multiple airballs. Regarding the latter, Tatum conveyed the following:
“I had a couple shots that were short. I’ve just got to not fade as much; use my legs. You’re going to be more tired in the fourth than you are in the first quarter, but you’ve got to get your legs under you on a couple of those shots (to) give yourself a chance.”
When asked about fatigue impacting their fourth-quarter offense as Boston produced 14 points before he emptied the bench, Ime Udoka acknowledged, “it could’ve been. We ran them a longer stretch to get back in the game in the third. It looked like our decision-making waned a little bit in the fourth, and it could’ve been from that.
“We weren’t getting a whole lot of production off the bench, went with them for a little bit longer, being that they got us back in it, and (we) tried to use the timeouts for their rest. But we got away from what got us back in the game in the third, and decision making could, and fatigue could be a part of it.”
The other factor slowing down the Celtics offense in the final frame was mounting frustration with the officiating. That included Marcus Smart embellishing a Klay Thompson push off, resulting in the latter burying an open three, not getting whistled for an offensive foul. Voicing his displeasure from him at the other end of the court, Smart picked up a technical.
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That was the second one of the game for Boston after Udoka received a technical at the end of the first quarter. It stemmed from the officials not calling a foul on Robert Williams as Andrew Wiggins went in for a transition layup but not giving the ball to the Celtics despite it going out of bounds off Wiggins. Wiggins then collected the inbounds pass and drew a trip to the free-throw line before the buzzer, also irritating Udoka. It’s possible Udoka said something that warranted a technical, but in that moment, the referees lacked the patience the situation required.
Regarding the Celtics’ frustration with the officiating, Udoka Stated: “I think there was a little bit of that throughout the game, so not necessarily only in the fourth, but probably something we all did too much and shouldn’t have done as much.” .”
Al Horford, who had nine points and nine rebounds, said of the impact the officiating had on Boston’s play and its focus in the final frame: “Not our best moment. As you guys know, I feel like we’ve been able to fend those things off. Especially throughout the playoffs. For whatever reason, tonight, I feel like it got to us. It’s one of those things that, we brought it back, we were able to focus back in, but we can never let that get to us. We can’t let that affect our game. The way that things are being played. We feel like we can control a lot of those things, and it’s something that we have to move on and be better on Thursday.”
Jayson Tatum expressed: “In those situations, especially on the road, regardless of if we feel like calls are going our way or not, just in those moments, we’ve just got to be better of not letting distractions or things like that distract Down one going into the fourth quarter, just got to focus on what’s important at the time; that’s on all of us. And we’ll regroup and bounce back, I’m sure of it.”
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