SAN FRANCISCO – Jayson Tatum offered a resigned chuckle when asked about the Boston Celtics’ confidence level after losing Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
If any nihilistic thoughts tormented him in a game in which he scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a losing effort against Golden State, he suppressed them.
“You better be confident, right?” Tatum said. “We ain’t got to win two in one day. We just got to win one game on Thursday. We’ve been in this situation before. So it ‘s not over. Got to win on Thursday. “
The idea that Boston knows what to do when cornered in a playoff series has been repeated by the Celtics many times this postseason. They did it again Monday night after falling to a 3-2 series deficit in the NBA Finals, and now they face elimination on Thursday in Boston. But the assuredness with which they spoke in the previous series was missing.
For many reasons, the situation they find themselves in is now a new topic and the Celtics are searching for answers for how to recover in time for Game 6.
“Our faith has got to be at an all-time high,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said. “Our faith has continued to be there. We got to play as a team, as a unit. All season long it ‘s kind of been like everybody versus us. I look at it as no different now. “
Center Robert Williams said: “We have to look at each other in the eye now. Our backs are up against the wall. “
What’s familiar is that the Celtics are in an elimination game.
They have played in three during this season’s playoffs and advanced by winning all of them.
They were down 3-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, then won the next two games to reach the conference finals. There, the Miami Heat forced a Game 7, which Boston won, 100-96.
Often it seemed the Celtics were making their own way faster than it needed to, giving in to the lulls when they played in games that weren’t must-wins. They had an opportunity to finish their series against the Heat at home in six games but couldn’t. They gave up 47 points to Miami’s Jimmy Butler that night. They have been blown out by the same teams they have beaten convincingly, suggesting a lack of focus.
Their disregard has manifested through missteps like careless turnovers – the Celtics have given up 16.8 turnovers per game in each of their losses during the playoffs and only 12.8 wins this postseason. They gave up 18 turnovers on Monday night.
Their offense has gone stale at times, but their defense has helped save them.
Before Game 5, Boston coach Ime Udoka said the Celtics would have been 3-1 in the series if their offense had simply played better. Then they started Game 5 by missing their first 12 3-pointers.
What’s changed now is that Golden State seems to have decoded the Celtics. Boston’s physicality no longer scares them. Shut down Stephen Curry? Golden State still won.
For most of the playoffs, every time Boston lost a game, it recovered in the next. Game 5 was the first time this postseason that the Celtics had lost twice in a row – the result of a disparity in poise and adaptability, with the young Boston team on the low end.
As the series has progressed, Golden State has become more and more ready to pounce on the Celtics’ weaknesses.
Celtics forward Al Horford said he felt his team was “almost playing in their hands, some of the things they want us to do, which is taking contested midrange shots and maybe playing a little faster than we want at times. I feel like that ‘s part of the reason our offense is not clicking like it needs to. “
In Game 5, the Celtics also fell victim to their frustrations with the officiating, which compounded their offensive struggles. The team complained and argued for most of the night.
“Probably something we shouldn’t do as much, and we all did too much,” Udoka said.
What’s also unfamiliar for the Celtics as they face elimination this time is the pressure that comes with this stage of the season.
After Boston took a 2-1 lead in the series, all the talk of Golden State’s advantage in championship experience seemed nonsensical. It seemed, at the time, that the Celtics lost that one game only because they lost focus, as they sometimes do. It seemed, at that time, that Boston was too big, strong, athletic and young for Golden State’s experience to make much of a difference.
But now the series has reached a point that these Celtics have never seen before.
“We understand what we need to do,” Curry said. “It’s just about going out and executing, trying to bottle up your emotions, knowing how hard a closeout game is.”
As Boston searches for answers, Golden State smells blood.
Said Klay Thompson: “I’ve never been so excited to go to Boston, I’ll tell you that.”