In the second half of Game 4’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics searched deep in the soul to regain what made them a successful team in 2022-23.
Passing and taking care of the ball flourished. A cohesive defense forced the Miami Heat into difficult looks. And plenty of contributions across the board.
It also helped Jayson Tatum was energetic in production and leadership in helping the Celtics pick up a 116-99 victory.
Staving off elimination and by extending the series to Game 5, Tatum and the Celtics dug in. It still wasn’t the most-complete effort but Boston rose to the occasion, keeping their slim NBA title hopes alive.
Boston Celtics love an uphill climb
The tale of Boston’s last couple of years has followed the same road map in this season’s playoffs. Often, the Celtics seem to be their own worst enemy.
An opening round in which they failed to put away the Atlanta Hawks with ease. Falling in a 3-2 hole to the Philadelphia 76ers in the semis before winning in seven games.
Maybe the Celtics simply like to play with their backs against the wall and are trying to see how big of holes they can dig themselves out of. When the Heat took a 3-0 series lead, the Celtics gave themselves their greatest objective yet.
In Games 1 and 2, Boston did its job in six of the eight quarters. Those two bad quarters, however, gave Miami the edge needed to win those two games. And Game 3 was a clinic by the Heat in which Boston had a limp and lifeless effort.
Bottomed out, with nowhere left to go, Game 4 was going to be telling of Boston’s character.
The Celtics were shady in the first quarter. The season, already on life support, looked like the plug was about to be pulled. Parts of the second quarter were better but Miami looked destined to bring out the brooms. There was progress by the Celtics, yes, but they were the bad version of themselves with sloppy passing, trouble dribbling, mismanaged shot attempts, and foul trouble.
But the return in the second-half of the Boston team we’ve grown to love was magnificent. Part of me kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and watch the Celtics blew another second-half, double digit lead. But Boston kept up the intensity, outscoring Miami by 23 after halftime.
All starters reached double figures and Grant Williams added 14 points off the bench. Watching Al Horford find his shot again and Derrick White attack the rim with zeal meant the Celtics were rolling. And though Jaylen Brown continued to struggle in the ECF, he was much better than in his previous game (and is almost poised to have an explosive performance in Game 5).
It was Tatum taking over that sealed this game. The stat line was similar to what we’ve seen — 33 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists — but it was leadership and hustle that set him and the Boston Celtics apart in this game.
The Heat cooled off in Game 4, which helped, but it will take complete efforts to keep the dream alive going forward.
A deeper bench for Boston Celtics
Jimmy Butler has been a force for the Miami Heat but surprisingly it’s been the Heat’s bench that has held the advantage over the Celtics this series.
Boston should not be in that position, even with the best efforts of Caleb Martin tossing up All-Star numbers off the bench for Miami.
One thing the Celtics need: the return of NBA Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. Not that Brogdon has been off the court. He’s been there, scoring only two points on 1-11 shooting in 35 minutes between Games 3 and 4.
That’s a far cry from his production this season, including this series. In Game 1 alone, Brogdon had 19 points in 37 minutes.
I wouldn’t even mind if head coach Joe Mazzulla went deeper into his rotation. There is some unwritten rule where benches have to shorten for the playoffs. I get it if a team is only throwing players out on the court in the regular season to save wear-and-tear on the starters/key players. But the Celtics depth was on display all season and, while I understand the need to shorten rotations, Boston built that depth for a reason and not using them is slightly discouraging.
Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard both have the ability to play a four-to-five minute stretch in the first half. This not only rests some other plays for key minutes later in the game but if either catches fire, it can ignite what will already be an electric crowd in Boston for Game 5.
A daunting task lies ahead for the Boston Celtics. Many wrote them off after Game 3 or saw Game 4 as a simple blip. But give a team one win, and the door for success opens slightly. Give them two? Well, that can mean all the difference in the world.