It’s win or go home time for the boys from Beantown. Will they find a way to stave off elimination? In this piece, we’ll suggest four adjustments that Boston should make ahead of Friday’s pivotal Game 5 matchup.
We’ll start this list of corrections with a fundamental element of basketball: ball security. The Celtics finished Wednesday night’s game with 19 turnovers as a team. That’s not a horrific mark, but it was one of the reasons they lost.
Somewhat surprisingly, stars like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart accounted for 14 of Boston’s 19 giveaways. By comparison, the Heat finished with just eight turnovers. Tatum, who we’ll discuss more later, had six on his own. Smart and Brown had four apiece.
Boston’s 11 turnovers at the half helped Miami go into the break with a 50-44 lead. And aside from a brief one-point advantage in the fourth, the Celtics fought from behind for the rest of the game.
Boston had 20 turnovers in Game 2 and lost. They had 19 in Game 4… and lost.
In franchise history, the Celtics have only played 10 playoff games in which they had >10 more turnovers than their opponent.
Two of those games have come in this series: losses in Game 2 and Game 4.
Carelessness killing the C’s.
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) September 24, 2020
The Celtics have been great in the first half of games throughout these playoffs. In fact, they’ve averaged 59.3 points in the first half, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and built double-digit leads in all three games. However, that wasn’t the case in Wednesday night’s matchup. The Celtics were an abysmal 16-of-40 in the first half. Making things a bit worse was the fact that Jayson Tatum went 0-fer, meaning he failed to score in the first two quarters of play.
Give credit to Miami’s defense for slowing Tatum down in the first half. He ended up finishing with a decent stat line (28 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one steal). Notably, though, it was the first time all season that he failed to score through the first two quarters of a game.
The former No. 3 overall pick knows he’ll need to compile a complete game on Friday to stave off elimination:
“We gotta be better,” Tatum said during his postgame media availability. “We know what’s at stake. We know what’s on the line. We’ve got to play a complete game. It’s win or go home time.”
If the Celtics hope to win in Game 5, they’ll need to figure out a way to limit the production of Heat rookie Tyler Herro, who posted the best game of his career on Wednesday night.
The 20-year-old Herro scored a Heat rookie-record 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting from the field (5-of-10 from beyond the arc), six rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes of action. Miami legend Dwyane Wade held the previous mark with 27 points in 2004:
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) September 24, 2020
Notably, Herro became just the second 20-year-old in NBA playoff history to score at least 37 points in a game. Who was the other? Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals:
Tyler Herro's 37 points tonight were the second-most a player Age 20 or younger has ever scored in an #NBAPlayoffs game.
Magic Johnson scored 42 on May 16, 1980. pic.twitter.com/ft9z7E5kJr
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) September 24, 2020
“I feel good about it,” Herro said of his performance in Game 4, via ESPN. “There’s a lot of work to be done still. We’re up 3-1.”
Herro’s confidence is growing, and he seems poised to take the next step. He may not have this big of a performance in Game 5, but it’s safe to say that the Celtics will be guarding him a bit closer.
Celtics Calling On Kemba
The Celtics acquired Kemba Walker from the Charlotte Hornets in July of 2019. He was the face of the Hornets for years, but he accepted a four-year maximum deal in hopes of helping Boston win another NBA championship.
Walker has shown flashes of his offensive prowess in these playoffs, but nothing has really stood out consistently. For a player of his caliber — a four-time All-Star — one would think that he would have at least one breakout performance in the postseason. He had 20 points in Game 5 but finished with a -10 plus/minus score.
To be fair, Walker isn’t playing all that poorly. He’s currently averaging 19.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in the postseason, but the Celtics could certainly use a true breakout performance from the former UCONN standout.
Walker urged his teammates to have a sense of pride during Wednesday night’s postgame availability:
“At the end of the day, we got to find a way,” Walker said, via ESPN. “That’s really all we can do. We can do it. It’s about pride. It’s about wanting to do it. Next game we got to come out and show that.”
Game 5 between the Celtics and Heat is set to tip at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday night, with ESPN having live broadcast coverage.
Let’s see how the Celtics respond in the face of elimination.