The Celtics are one more decently bad injury away from barely being able to field a full NBA-caliber rotation, but that didn’t stop the guys they have left from carrying their team to a 114-112 Game 5 win over the 76ers, clinching Boston’s spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Jaylen Brown just returned to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after a hamstring injury. Marcus Smart quite possibly still hasn’t fully recovered from a torn ligament in his thumb. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are both not going to see the court in a NBA game until next season. And yet the Celtics are limping their way to the next round, health be damned, after dispatching a very talented and extremely feisty Sixers team.
Even Boston’s ostensibly healthy players were dinged up by game’s end, as Jayson Tatum finished the game with a wrap after he took a fall into some cameramen in the second quarter. But if Tatum was playing at anything below 100 percent, he didn’t show it. The sensational rookie scored a team-high 25 points and added four assists, and his lay-in with under half a minute to go broke a 109-109 tie to give Boston the lead they would ride to victory. Brown added 24, Marcus Smart made a ton of crucial plays in the last minute, and wily old Al Horford was brilliant at both ends despite being in foul trouble for most of the second half.
It got a bit tense at the very end, with a J.J. Redick three moving the Sixers within one point with five seconds to play. But when a full-court pass from Ben Simmons was intercepted by Smart, the Sixers’ season ended, and the Celtics advanced to face the Cavs.
It’s a testament either to the perseverance of this Boston team or the weakness of the East that the Celtics have made it to the conference finals. At maybe half their full potential strength, they dispatched a very good team with relative ease, and they’ve confirmed their place as one of the top-four teams in the league. This Celtics squad looks nothing like the one that got knocked aside by Cleveland in last year’s conference finals, or even the one that started this season. But the weirdness they got is working for now.