Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY
Published 11:29 p.m. ET Sept. 25, 2020 | Updated 12:54 a.m. ET Sept. 26, 2020
What I’m Hearing: Jeff Zillgitt breaks down what both teams were saying following the Lakers Game 4 win over the Nuggets to take a 3-1 series lead and why this is familiar territory for Denver.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Boston Celtics finally won a “home” game.
And they needed it.
Facing elimination, the Celtics defeated the Miami Heat 121-108 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday. The Heat own a 3-2 series lead, and Game 6 is Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The Celtics outscored the Heat 70-50 in the second half and leaned on their young stars. Forward Jayson Tatum, 22, scored 17 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter, and had 10 rebounds and six assists.
Boston forward Jaylen Brown, 23, scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half.
“Our deal was to come out and play, come out and compete, give it our best shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought we played pretty well in the second half. But we’re going to have to do it again and again because of the position we’re in.
“When we don’t get caught up in that other crap, we’re trying to be our best. We care about competing. We care about representing our team and our organization well. We care about each other. That’s why you compete.”
Center Daniel Theis finally got the better of his counterpart, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, with 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
“We need him to provide what he provides,” Stevens said. “He was great in the middle of the zone. He caught it twice and scored. He was great there on the glass on both ends. We need him to be good. We got a lot out of that center position tonight. That’s important.”
While all games are played at a neutral site here at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex, there is a designated home team based on seed, and the Celtics last won a “home” game on Aug. 19 in the first round of the playoffs.
The home team gets the raucous introductions just before tip-off, and the Celtics get to hear the beginning of “Crazy Train” and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” at the start of the game. But nothing can recreate 18,000 fans at TD Garden for a playoff game.
“Obviously, as much as the NBA has tried to make the home stuff matter, it just doesn’t,” Stevens said earlier in the series. “It has no impact, unfortunately. I’m not sure that we’ve played in a home game where the home team has won in three weeks. At the end of the day, it’s just guys playing in between those lines and who executes better and who plays the whole 48 or 53 or 58 minutes, or however long it takes, better.”
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The Celtics meandered through the first half without much purpose, settling for 3-pointers and playing apathetic defense.
They trailed 60-51 early in the third quarter. But then it began to click for Boston. It started forcing the action on both ends – driving to the bucket looking for the best shot and defending with urgency.
The Celtics went on a 20-3 run and took a 71-63 lead with 5:39 left in the third. They shot 54.2% from the field and made 11 of 12 free throws.
By the midway point of the fourth quarter, Boston owned a 107-91 advantage.
Tatum scored 20-plus points in the second half for the second consecutive game, and his third-quarter performance helped Boston take control.
“Just finding my rhythm,” Tatum said. “Playing within the system, playing within the game. Knowing I need to be aggressive, try not to force it, but know I got to get myself going and make plays, whether it be for myself or other guys. Just build off that.”
Boston overcame a 12-point first-half deficit, its largest comeback when facing elimination in 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“Boston played great in that second half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They deserved and earned what they got. We understand how tough it is to win in the playoffs. We did not compete hard enough defensively, and we paid the price for that. But you do have to credit Boston. They played with great force, particularly off the dribble.”
Miami’s Goran Dragic scored a team-high 23 points, and Jimmy Butler had 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The Heat shot just 19.4% on 3-pointers, and were outrebounded 50-38 as Boston dominated the paint.
“They were playing harder than we were, which we all knew,” Butler said. “We’ve just got to correct that. That’s where it starts for us. Any time anybody is playing harder than we are, we are not playing our best basketball. I think a lot of it for us comes from how hard we play, how together we play, and we’ve got to get back to doing that.”