The Celtics live to see another day and while their bags may have been packed it was evident last night that their hearts were not quite ready to exit the NBA’s bubble just yet.
During the Celtics' 121-108 Game 5 victory over Miami Celtics head coach Brad Stevens could be heard making his feelings very clear saying during a timeout “with all sincerity that’s the first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the past few games.”
With their season on life-support the Celtics young stars (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum) certainly came through, scoring a combined 59 points to help Boston force a Game 6 Sunday night.
Led once again by the streaky, yet sensational play of Tatum who finished the game with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Meanwhile, Brown chipped in with 28 points and eight rebounds of his own.
The Celtics young duo became the first set of teammates to score at least 28 points in a conference final or final elimination game in NBA history & Tatum joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players under 23 years old in NBA history to have multiple 30-point, 10 rebound and five-assist games in a playoff series.
But while forcing a Game 6 may have taken historic play from the Celtics stars, they are not the primary reason the C's remain alive and, in the bubble, today. That honor goes to the combined efforts of the Celtics centers Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter.
With just over nine minutes remaining in an ugly first half and with the Celtics trailing Miami by double digits Stevens turned to the little-used Kanter, and the center came through in a big way providing a stabilizing force on both ends of the floor.
Kanter immediately had an impact scoring on his first two possessions, disrupting what had become Miami’s indestructible zone defense. By the time halftime came around Kanter’s impact was undeniable scoring eight critical points while grabbing four rebounds and almost single-handedly keeping the Celtics within striking distance. The effort cut Miami’s lead to just seven.
Following the game Stevens extolled the importance of his backup centers contributions saying “Kanter’s points in the paint I thought really helped. That kind of helped steady us giving us a chance at halftime”
Kanter however was only one half of the Celtics spectacular center combination as Theis proved to be outstanding as well, especially in the second half.
On a court loaded with stars it was Theis’ second-half double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) that completely changed the trajectory of what could have been the Celtics' elimination game.
Theis was everywhere providing the kind of energy, effort, heart and leadership that the Celtics will continue to need if they hope to extend this series yet again Sunday night. He would play 23 of the game’s final 24 minutes and was brilliant in helping the Celtics expose the holes in Miami’s zone defense.
Following the game Theis’s play was not lost on Stevens who noted of his center, “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”
On a team with multiple All-Stars, multiple max contract players, and high expectations it was one of the Celtics brightest young stars that said it best, with Tatum calling the contribution from the center combo as “big time.”
Big-time play from the Celtics' big men duo is what saved their season and that’s why they get another shot to tie up the Eastern conference finals again Sunday night.