Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is a person of few phrases. Throughout his interview with Allie LaForce of TNT in between the third and fourth quarters of Recreation 5 of the Jap Convention finals on Thursday evening, he uttered simply 10 of them. The primary seven stood out.

“It simply begins with our defensive identification,” Mazzulla mentioned, when requested why the Celtics have been the most effective model of themselves in a wire-to-wire, 110-97 victory over the Miami Warmth, which saved their season alive and compelled a Recreation 6 again in Miami on Saturday. 

In case you simply scanned the field rating, it could not look like this was a defensive masterpiece by the Celtics, however the Warmth’s 51.3% taking pictures from the sphere and 39.1% mark from 3-point land do not inform the total story. Sure, they could have hit photographs, however they by no means obtained into a cushty rhythm due to the Celtics’ stress proper from the opening tip.

The Warmth received that leap ball and tried to arrange Bam Adebayo with a publish iso on the suitable aspect of the ground. Solely, Al Horford compelled Adebayo to catch the ball all the best way on the 3-point line, which meant the Warmth large man needed to put the ball on the deck in the midst of the ground to get to the basket. That was a nasty concept with Marcus Sensible lurking; the Celtics guard reached in for a steal, dove to safe the free ball and located Jayson Tatum for a fastbreak layup. 

“Physicality on the defensive finish from the beginning,” Grant Williams mentioned. “Sensible set the tone the primary play of the sport, which set our protection up for the remainder of the sport and we gotta simply proceed that stress.”

The Celtics have been completely locked in. 

Their pick-up factors have been within the backcourt or proper at halfcourt. They have been making the Warmth work simply to get into their units, which they then needed to begin additional away from the basket. Here is a pattern of 4 possessions from the primary quarter. 

The Celtics have been choosing up the Warmth early and making them work 

They constructed on their preliminary stress by flying round off the ball and being good with when and the place they helped. Here is a play late within the first half the place Jaylen Brown jumps the passing lane for a steal and will get a simple fastbreak layup. That every one occurs as a result of Sensible is up on Caleb Martin early, which makes the preliminary cross out to the wing longer and extra predictable, giving Brown the flexibility to time the steal. 

Within the third quarter, the Warmth tried to publish up Adebayo with Sensible guarding him, so Horford shades down towards the paint and makes a tough double workforce. As Adebayo kicks out to Jimmy Butler, Derrick White has already slid over to the elbow to congest the lane Butler needs to drive into and will get the steal. 

On the events when the Warmth have been capable of get into the lane, the Celtics’ self-discipline and rim safety made issues troublesome. Whereas the Warmth did shoot the ball effectively total, that was totally on powerful jumpers; on the rim they have been simply 17 of 26, a 65.4% mark that was under league common, and within the paint total they have been 26 of 47. 

Only a few possessions in, White performs large protection and goes vertical to pressure a Butler miss.

A couple of minutes later, Tatum does the identical.

Within the second half, White refused to chunk on a Butler pump faux, then Tatum stands tall to contest a wild working layup from Max Strus.

“Yeah, D-White, second workforce all-defense this yr for a cause,” Tatum mentioned. “He is a giant a part of our workforce, our identification, issues we attempt to do on the defensive finish. He is a really good basketball participant on each ends, and his consciousness, his instincts, they confirmed tonight.”

The Celtics shouldn’t have the identical stage of protection as they did final season, however they nonetheless completed second within the league in defensive ranking and might dial it up when mandatory. That is simply what they did in Recreation 5 with an excellent show that completely blended power and group. The consequence was 27 factors off of 16 turnovers, which included 13 steals. 

And it is that sort of depth that they will want extra of in Recreation 6 in the event that they wish to change into simply the fourth workforce in NBA historical past to pressure a Recreation 7 after taking place 3-0. 

“We performed with nice depth on protection, and I feel we simply set the tone from the leap,” Brown mentioned. “We have to have the ability to do this and carry that over into the following sport. We now have obtained to count on their greatest punch subsequent sport.”

By Editor

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