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Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is a man of handful of words. Through his interview with Allie LaForce of TNT in in between the third and fourth quarters of Game five of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday evening, he uttered just ten of them. The 1st seven stood out.

“It just begins with our defensive identity,” Mazzulla mentioned, when asked why the Celtics had been the most effective version of themselves in a wire-to-wire, 110-97 victory more than the Miami Heat, which kept their season alive and forced a Game six back in Miami on Saturday. 

If you just scanned the box score, it might not look like this was a defensive masterpiece by the Celtics, but the Heat’s 51.three% shooting from the field and 39.1% mark from three-point land do not inform the complete story. Yes, they might have hit shots, but they never ever got into a comfy rhythm mainly because of the Celtics’ stress correct from the opening tip.

The Heat won that jump ball and attempted to set up Bam Adebayo with a post iso on the correct side of the floor. Only, Al Horford forced Adebayo to catch the ball all the way at the three-point line, which meant the Heat large man had to place the ball on the deck in the middle of the floor to get to the basket. That was a negative concept with Marcus Intelligent lurking the Celtics guard reached in for a steal, dove to safe the loose ball and identified Jayson Tatum for a fastbreak layup. 

“Physicality on the defensive finish from the start out,” Grant Williams mentioned. “Intelligent set the tone the 1st play of the game, which set our defense up for the rest of the game and we gotta just continue that stress.”

The Celtics had been entirely locked in. 

Their choose-up points had been in the backcourt or correct at halfcourt. They had been creating the Heat operate just to get into their sets, which they then had to start out additional away from the basket. Here’s a sample of 4 possessions from the 1st quarter. 

The Celtics had been choosing up the Heat early and creating them work 

They constructed on their initial stress by flying about off the ball and becoming clever with when and exactly where they helped. Here’s a play late in the 1st half exactly where Jaylen Brown jumps the passing lane for a steal and gets an straightforward fastbreak layup. That all takes place mainly because Intelligent is up on Caleb Martin early, which tends to make the initial pass out to the wing longer and much more predictable, providing Brown the potential to time the steal. 

In the third quarter, the Heat attempted to post up Adebayo with Intelligent guarding him, so Horford shades down toward the paint and tends to make a really hard double group. As Adebayo kicks out to Jimmy Butler, Derrick White has currently slid more than to the elbow to congest the lane Butler desires to drive into and gets the steal. 

On the occasions when the Heat had been in a position to get into the lane, the Celtics’ discipline and rim protection produced factors complicated. Although the Heat did shoot the ball properly general, that was mostly on hard jumpers at the rim they had been just 17 of 26, a 65.four% mark that was beneath league typical, and in the paint general they had been 26 of 47. 

Just a handful of possessions in, White plays tremendous defense and goes vertical to force a Butler miss.

A handful of minutes later, Tatum does the exact same.

In the second half, White refused to bite on a Butler pump fake, then Tatum stands tall to contest a wild operating layup from Max Strus.

“Yeah, D-White, second group all-defense this year for a cause,” Tatum mentioned. “He’s a large aspect of our group, our identity, factors we attempt and do on the defensive finish. He’s a incredibly clever basketball player on each ends, and his awareness, his instincts, they showed tonight.”

The Celtics do not have the exact same level of defense as they did final season, but they nonetheless completed second in the league in defensive rating and can dial it up when essential. That is just what they did in Game five with a brilliant show that completely blended power and organization. The outcome was 27 points off of 16 turnovers, which incorporated 13 steals. 

And it really is that variety of intensity that they will will need much more of in Game six if they want to grow to be just the fourth group in NBA history to force a Game 7 soon after going down three-. 

“We played with good intensity on defense, and I feel we just set the tone from the jump,” Brown mentioned. “We’ve got to be in a position to do that and carry that more than into the subsequent game. We have got to anticipate their most effective punch subsequent game.”

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