LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After the Boston Celtics dropped Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Toronto Raptors, they said they had to play better, smarter and harder to regain control of the series in Game 5.
The Celtics then proceeded to go out and do exactly that.
Thanks to a suffocating performance defensively, and some timely scoring from both Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, the Celtics cruised to a 111-89 victory over the Raptors to take a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven affair.
Boston can now close out Toronto — and advance to its third Eastern Conference Finals in the past four years — with a win in Game 6 on Wednesday night.
“It’s the playoffs,” Brown said. “Got to come out ready to fight every single night. If not, that’s how you lose. So our guys came out ready to fight tonight.”
Although Toronto managed to make things respectable with a push in the fourth quarter, this game was essentially over in the opening 12 minutes. Like in Game 1, another easy Boston victory, the Celtics were all over the Raptors from the opening tip, flying around defensively and refusing to let their opponents even get a sniff at an easy basket.
By the time the quarter was over, Boston had built a 25-11 lead, as Toronto shot an abysmal 4-for-20 from the field, went 1-for-9 from behind the 3-point arc and committed six turnovers that led to seven Celtics points.
Things didn’t get much better in the second, as Boston started to hit some of the open shots it missed in the first, opened up a 62-35 halftime lead and made the final 24 minutes of this game an academic exercise.
“I mean, we were really active,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We were really just trying to play hard, as hard as we could. They missed a couple of shots. We missed some shots in the first quarter but we were playing with great purpose. You could feel that from the get go.
“So you just hope that you would knock enough in to kind of get something going and we did. But they’re very tough to guard, they got a lot of people to go to and we’re gonna have to be good again.”
Toronto’s half-court offense has been an issue all season, and clearly was an issue in this game. But part of the reason the Raptors couldn’t get going was because of the relentlessness the Celtics showed at that end of the court.
That was something Boston swore it would do in Game 5 after a sluggish performance in Game 4 at both ends — one that caused both Brown and Walker afterward to take it upon themselves to say they had to be better in Game 5.
Brown instantly was true to his word, scoring seven of his game-high 27 points in the first quarter while flying around defensively. Walker, meanwhile, said it was “unacceptable” on his part to only take nine shots in Game 4, and said he needed to be much more aggressive in Game 5. He took four shots in the first quarter alone, and finished the game with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go with seven assists in 36 minutes.
“I just really read the game,” Walker said. “I was just put in position to make plays tonight, and that’s what I did. I still don’t really know how many shots I took, but I think I was just more in control tonight.”
Even after their impressive showing in Game 5, Boston is well aware of how difficult it will be to close out the defending champions and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics had the Raptors all but out of the series in Game 3 after Walker’s sublime pass to Daniel Theis for a dunk with a half-second remaining to give Boston the lead — only for Toronto to then win Game 3 on a buzzer-beater by OG Anunoby. The Raptors then evened the series in Game 4.
For the Celtics to actually close this series out in Game 6, they know it will require a similar effort to what they produced in their thoroughly dominant showing Monday night.
“It don’t say nothing,” Brown said of the team’s excellent Game 5. “We got to get ready to play [Wednesday]. The job’s not finished yet.
“We still got a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The Celtics also received a boost when Gordon Hayward re-entered the bubble. It is unclear how long he will have to remain in quarantine, after going home for the birth of his fourth child, and when he will be able to rejoin the Celtics on the court.
Hayward suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain exactly three weeks ago, late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of Boston’s sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. The team said at the time that Hayward would be out for approximately four weeks, but has yet to update his status.
He won’t be able to rejoin them in time to play in this series, but could potentially become an option for the Celtics if they are able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, which are unlikely to begin until sometime next week.