Jayson Tatum and Celtics Defend Toughness after Boston Beat the Heat

BOSTON — Derrick White dribbled the ball up the floor, sized up Bam Adebayo, used Luke Kornet to screen himself onto Nikola Jovic and stepped into a three. His fifth make of the night in 10 tries sent the Celtics scorching into round two. White finished the opening series by shooting 23-for-39 between Games 4-5.

“Each game is different,” White said this morning. “I doubt I’ll take, what, 26 shots again?”

He didn’t. And the Celtics drew even with a 118-84 win, capping their fourth series in five years to avenge last year’s east finals loss without incident despite Kristaps Porziņģis going down in Game 4.

Life without him began smoothly on offense, Boston shooting 58.6% from the field, 40.6% from three and generating 25 free throws through three quarters while going ahead by as many as 37 points. White led the Celtics again with 25 points.

Offense didn’t always flow that smoothly in the series though, with Boston entering Game 5 shooting 45.8% from the field, only slightly better than Miami, and struggling from three in Game 3 and two in Game 4. Defense, rebounding and passing proved more critical than Boston’s scoring in taking care of the Heat in five games.

“Consistency, physicality, we played with real speed in the offensive end,” Joe Mazzulla said after Game 5. “I don’t really worry about what happened last year, at the end of the day, I like how we approached the series regardless of who we’re playing. It had an intentionality to it, an attention to detail and it had a consistent physicality, and that’s the most important thing.”

White carried over his Game 4 onslaught to Boston with a corner three on the third Celtics possession before he beat Delon Wright, the spot starter in place of Jaime Jaquez, downhill with some early offense. White and Brown beat Miami’s defense into the half court on back-to-back plays before a three pass possession set White up for a driving dunk. Effectively ending the Heat’s chances at pushing the series to six.

White shrugged, stepping backward past the bench before pausing as the Heat called timeout after his seven points in five minutes. Al Horford and White hit back-to-back threes after to build an early nine-point lead.

“We got off to a really good start playing with pace (in Game 4),” Mazzulla said pre-game. “We just gotta use the speed to our advantage on both ends of the floor. I think that’s the most important thing, but it starts with our defense. Gotta get stops, then you don’t have to play in the half court.”

That lead ballooned to 24 points only 15 minutes into the night, Boston unloading on Tyler Herro, Kevin Love and other Heat wings to spark a 11-0 run that became 26-9 between quarters. Jayson Tatum got rolling with back-to-back threes over Love while White became the first Celtic in at least 25 years to score 15 points in back-to-back first quarters.

An 18-point Boston lead mounted to 30 into the second quarter behind Brown and Jrue Holiday threes, the Celtics starting 10-for-17 from deep. The Heat immediately answered 16-5 to make it a 19-point game, broken up by White’s cutting layup and Horford grabbing consecutive offensive rebounds, turning and pumping up the crowd. Tatum lauded and defended the Celtics’ physicality in the aftermath of the series, with another defensive-minded opponent in Orlando or Cleveland up next.

“Being honest with ourselves, what’re team’s messages, what’s their game plan to beat us? And it’s to pick up the pace, the pressure, be more physical, clash the glass, do all the intangible things,” Tatum said. “We know that. Why don’t we flip the script and be the tougher team? … while still being the talented team that we are … the world we live in, there’s gotta be something wrong with every team. That’s what they like to say and you can see how talented we are. I think it’s lazy or easy to say teams can out tough us. I never understood that. What’s the definition of tough. Having the louder guys on your team? That shit don’t make you tough … playing the right way, showing up every day to do your job. I think that’s tough.”

He scored four straight attacking inside to maintain much of the lead into halftime, 68-46, but the offense missed four straight threes. Brown, who fell to 39% from the free throw line in the series with three first half misses, redeemed himself to begin the second half before a touch pass from Holiday to White set the latter up for a 4-for-7 start from deep, Back on the board with their 11th three, the Celtics led by 30 again. Adebayo, who scored 21 points in the first half on 9-for-17 shooting in the first half, missed 8-of-9 in the third.

Luke Kornet provided strong reserve minutes in the drop. He posted two points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists in his first significant run of the series. Horford, in his spot start, posted eight points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal. Tatum took a seat minutes into the fourth quarter with only nine shots, but grabbed 12 rebounds with three assists while the Celtics outscored Miami by 35 points during his minutes. The Heat finished 41.4% from the field and 103.% from three, capsizing offensively throughout a third straight loss that ended their season. Jimmy Butler (knee) and Terry Rozier (neck) never played while Duncan Robinson (back) barely could.

The rest of the credit went to the Celtics’ defensive resurgence following their Game 2 letdown that became the anomaly. Boston’s players shrugged off the notion of beating the Heat meaning something more. They mostly viewed it as handling the series in front of them, even if Tatum hoped to see them round one to raise the team’s awareness. It worked in tandem with the wave of absences that made it impossible for Miami to compete. That’ll kick the burden of proof for Boston to fully assert its growth and toughness to next week.

They move onto the second round, facing the winner of Magic-Cavaliers on either Sunday if Cleveland finishes the series in six, or Tuesday if that series goes seven. Their Game 6 takes place on Friday.

“I think it’s good that we did our work early,” Brown said. “I wish (we won in) four, but we’ll take five, mentally reset and focus on what’s next. See what stuff you can continue to improve on. Definitely some stuff we can clean up, definitely some stuff I will clean up going forward in the playoffs and I just look forward to the next round … we still have tests to go through, throughout these playoffs, especially now with K.P. being out, but I think we’re up to the challenge. I think I’m up to the challenge and I’m excited about that. We’re graduating. We haven’t graduated.”


Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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