BOSTON — Before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals Boston Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about his side’s hiring ahead of their second straight elimination game.
“Just win or die,” he said.
After a dominant performance on Thursday night, the Celtics are still alive.
Boston took control from the start and never looked back, shooting over 50% from the field and forcing the intense heat 27 points were scored in 16 turnovers, and four players finished the game with at least 20 points in a 110-99 start-to-start win in front of a packed TD Garden crowd.
“We had our backs to the wall,” he said Jaylen Brown, who finished with 21 points. “Of course we couldn’t have imagined being in this situation and being 3-0 down, but when disaster strikes you can see what a team is really made of.”
“It couldn’t have been worse than being 3-0 down, but we didn’t look back, we didn’t go in different directions. We stayed together.”
The Celtics are one step closer to becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven series. In fact, in the 151 games that have gone 3-0 in a series, the Celtics are only the 22nd team to go 3-0 down and outperform their opponents in the regular season. The previous two to do so: the Washington Capitols vs. the Chicago Stags in 1947 and the Orlando magic against the Celtics in 2010.
Now the Celtics will be looking to do something those teams failed to do: win in Miami on Saturday night and bring that series back here for Game 7 on Memorial Day.
“For some weird reason, we always seemed to give ourselves a little harder time last year,” he said Jayson Tatum, who had 21 points and had double-digit assists (11) for the first time this postseason. “But what I do know is that you can see the true character of a person, of a team when things aren’t going well, and our ability to come together and work things out when things aren’t necessarily looking good for us. That’s it.” Unlike every team I’ve been on this year and last year, only the core group was able to react.
“I think that’s just a testament to our togetherness, obviously how badly we want it, and we’ve got a room full of determined tough guys who work hard, you look left and right, believe that.” The guy next to you will do whatever it takes and die fighting if it doesn’t work out.
In Games 4 and 5, Boston resembled the side that played so well in the first 7+ months of the season.
After hitting a 29% batting average from 3-point range in Games 1 and 3, the Celtics have managed at least 40% in their last two games, including a 16-for-39 (41%) finish on Thursday night . Boston is now 38-2 this season if they hit at least 40% of their 3-pointers; it’s 29-31 if not.
Sales also played a decisive role here. The Celtics forced 16 heat turnovers in Game 4 and turned them into 27 points. In Game 5, they forced… 16 heat turnovers that totaled 27 points.
And their score was even. For the first time all season (regular season or playoffs), the Celtics finished four players with at least 20 points – Derrick White (24), Marcus Smart (23), Tatum and Brown.
“I think we just looked good throughout today,” said White. “[We were] Being able to come out and run, do that extra pass and when you get those looks with the shooters we have we’ll make sure they more than miss.
“Just keep making that extra pass and find the right man.”
Boston has been on an emotional roller coaster ride for several weeks; In the last eleven games, it has either won or lost consecutive times, starting in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers On the 3rd of May.
The Celtics also continued on their possibly historic path. Only three teams have forced a Game 7 after a 3-0 loss: the New York Knicks against the Rochester Royals in 1951, the Denver Nuggets against that Utah Jazz in 1994 and the Portland Trail Blazers against that Dallas Mavericks in 2003.
Boston is now just 48 minutes away from finishing fourth.
And while the Celtics have struggled a lot in the playoffs (11-11) at the Garden for the past two years, they’ve been a completely different team away. Including their Game 4 win, the Celtics have gone 13-7 away since the start of the 2022 playoffs and have won four straight elimination games.
With a win on Saturday in Miami, they want to make it to five.
“It’s going to take everything,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a dogfight. I can imagine these guys will play better than tonight and they will be aggressive.”
“We have to be ready to take their hit at home. We have to be willing to be resilient and come out and do what we’re supposed to do.”