LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After the Boston Celtics dropped Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal 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 proceeded to go out and do exactly that.
Thanks to a suffocating performance defensively and some timely scoring from 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 close out Toronto — and advance to its third Eastern Conference finals in four years — with a win in Game 6 on Wednesday.
“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 it respectable with a fourth-quarter push, this game essentially was 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 get a sniff at an easy basket.
By the time the quarter was over, Boston had built a 25-11 lead as Toronto shot 4-for-20 from the field, went 1-for-9 from 3 and committed six turnovers that led to seven Celtics points.
Things didn’t get much better in the second, as Boston hit some of the open shots it missed in the first, opened a 62-35 halftime lead and made the final 24 minutes 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 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 at both ends in Game 4, one that caused both Brown and Walker to take it upon themselves to say they had to be better in Game 5.
Brown was true to his word, scoring seven of his game-high 27 points in the first quarter and playing well defensively. Walker, meanwhile, said it was “unacceptable” on his part to take only nine shots in Game 4, and he said he needed to be much more aggressive in Game 5. He took four shots in the first quarter and finished 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 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 win it on a buzzer-beater by OG Anunoby. The Raptors evened the series in Game 4.
For the Celtics to close out this series in Game 6, they know it will require them to play as they did Monday.
“It don’t say nothing,” Brown said of the Celtics’ 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 received a boost when Gordon Hayward reentered the bubble. It is unclear how long he will have to remain quarantined after going home for the birth of his fourth child or when he will be able to rejoin the Celtics on the court.
Hayward suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain three weeks ago, late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of Boston’s sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. The team said at the time that Hayward would be out for about four weeks, but it has yet to update his status.
Hayward won’t be able to rejoin the team in time to play in this series, but he could be an option if the Celtics advance to the conference finals, which are unlikely to begin until next week.