Celtics

Celtics upset Heat in Game 5, can close series Thursday

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Celtics upset Heat in Game 5, can close series Thursday

MIAMI For a change, the Boston Celtics have not taken the path of greatest resistance, rallying for a critical 94-90 Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat.

With the win, Boston leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can move on to the NBA Finals with a Game 6 win at the Garden on Thursday.

The final points of the night were scored by Kevin Garnett, who rebounded from a slow start to finish with a team-high 26 points.

Boston, which trailed by as many as 13 points, closed out the third quarter with a 15-1 run to lead, 65-60, going into the fourth.

The Celtics fell behind 78-72 in the fourth, but went on a 9-2 run sparked by a 3-pointer from Mickael Pietrus and capped off by a baseline jumper from Garnett with 2:54 to play.

Pietrus would come up with a slew of big shots for Boston, as he finished with 13 points off the bench.

Boston made all the plays down the stretch, a sharp contrast from how they began the game.

The Celtics struggled rebounding the ball in the first half, but their strong play defensively didn't allow the C's struggles on the boards to hurt them too badly.

That would not be the case in the fourth, as a Dwyane Wade rebound and uncontested put-back basket cut Boston's lead to 70-69 with 9:06 to play.

At the half, Boston trailed 29-20 on the boards and was out-rebounded, 49-39, for the game.

Despite their struggles, the C's were within striking distance, trailing just 42-40 at the half.

Even with a nine-rebound deficit, the Celtics were tied in second-chance points (10) with the Heat, and actually had more points in the paint (22-20). Even more bizarre was it was the Celtics, not the more athletic Heat, that had the edge in fast-break points (7-4).

Boston's dfense was what kept them in the game, as they forced Miami into committing 11 first-half turnovers that resulted in nine points.

Miami was led by LeBron James, whose 18 points came on 7-for-12 shooting. His one-man dominance of the game was reminiscent to what he did for so many years in Cleveland.

And in the role of Mo Williams was Wade, who had seven points at the half on 3-for-9 shooting in the first half. He finished with 27 points on 10-for-22 shooting.

Aside from James, the most important player for Miami was Chris Bosh who returned to the Heat lineup after missing the previous nine games with a abdominal strain injury. He came off the bench in the first half to score nine points to go with six rebounds. He would only grab one rebound in the second half and finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”