Celtics Leverage ‘Defensive Identity’ to Dominate Heat in Game 5 and Prolong Season

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazura had very few words to say during an interview with TNT’s Allie Laforce between the third and fourth quarters of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night. He answered her question with just ten words, seven of which were “It just starts with our defensive identity.”

Despite the Heat’s 51.3% field goal shooting percentage and 39.1% shooting from 3-point lands, the Celtics prevented them from getting into a comfortable rhythm. In the first quarter, the Celtics grabbed the Heat early, making them work and building up the initial pressure by flying around off the ball.

Marcus Smart set the mood on the first play of the game, and this set the defense up for the rest of the game. They also made smart use of when and where they helped. This allowed Jaylen Brown to time his steals and jump into the passing lane late in the first half to steal for an easy fastbreak layup.

The Heat tried to post up Adebayo with Smart guarding in the third quarter, which allowed Al Horford to shadow into the paint for a hard double team. Even when the Heat were able to get into the lane, the Celtics’ discipline and rim protection made things difficult. They finished the game with 27 out of 16 turnovers, including 13 steals.

The Celtics have the same defensive level as last season, but they still finished second in the league in defensive ratings. The team is expected to carry that intensity over to Game 6 in hopes of being the fourth team in NBA history to push through to Game 7 after losing 3-0. Brown said, “We have to achieve that and carry it over to the next match. We have to expect their best punches in the next match.”

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