Kemba Walker’s tranquil leadership came in handy Friday night, as he was able to calm down and focus a desperate Boston Celtics team in order to help keep their postseason alive.
Boston came out with plenty of intensity in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, urgently seeking to shrink its 3-1 series deficit against the Miami Heat; however, it had difficulty harnessing its energy in a constructive manner early on, which allowed Miami to take a 58-51 lead into halftime.
That’s when Walker stepped in, according to teammate Jaylen Brown.
“What I remember from halftime is Kemba saying, 'We just need to settle down a little bit,'” Brown recalled. “We all felt the intensity that we all had in the beginning. I don't think we came out flat. It was different from Game 4 for us. We had the intensity; it was just coming out all over the place for us. We just had to dial in a little bit.”
And they sure did.
Boston opened up the third quarter on a 20-5 run and never looked back, cruising to a 121-108, season-saving victory.
What was the difference from the first half?
“We got back to playing Celtics basketball,” Walker answered after the game. “We were just aggressive and just really feeding off each other energy.”
Walker’s halftime words resonated with the Celtics because it reflected what they all feeling at the time: their spirit was there, but they just needed to calm their nerves, refocus their energy, and they’d be in a much better place.
“I think we all realized it,” said Jayson Tatum, who tallied a game-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds and six assists. “Everybody was so anxious, eager to make a play, make something happen. We know what’s at stake - we lose and go home. But at the same time, we’ve got to relax a little bit. Take a deep breath. We know how important every possession is, but we’ve still got to just relax a little bit and play the game, and that was kind of the message at halftime.”
The Celtics realized there was still plenty of time left to settle down, but they made quick work of it thanks to their defensive effort out of the break. During the first six-plus minutes of the second half, Boston limited Miami to just two field-goal makes, and the C’s capitalized off of all those misses by turning them into easy fast-break buckets and wide-open 3-pointers.
“For us, defense is always going to create our offense,” said Walker, who logged 15 points and seven assists. “The goal is to limit those guys to one shot, which is really hard. They’ve taken advantage of us inside, and we did a good job of keeping them off the glass.”
One player who did a great job of keeping Miami off the glass was Daniel Theis, who recorded game-highs of 13 rebounds and three blocks to go along with 15 points. The third-year big man made his biggest impact during that early third-quarter stretch, as he helped Boston turn things around defensively.
“It was a really long game, things aren’t always going to go your way, but one thing you can control is your ability to play hard,” Theis said. “I thought we did that. We kinda just caught ourselves, settled into the game, started making the right plays at both ends of the floor.”
By harnessing their energy and settling down, as Walker urged them to do at halftime, the Celtics were able to take control of Game 5. Now, let’s see if they can carry that mindset into Game 6 Sunday night, when they will look to tie the series up and send it into a Game 7.
Story by Taylor Snow