addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");
BOSTON – After an exhausting night of work Wednesday, Jayson Tatum made a declaration on behalf of his peers: “We deserve a day off tomorrow.”
And you need it, too.
Tatum and the Celtics just sent the 76ers into summer vacation with a thrilling 114-112 victory during Game 5 Wednesday night at TD Garden. The win clinched the series for Boston, 4-1.
Winning the series at any point was Boston’s main goal. However, the team’s high preference was to get it done as quickly as possible, specifically during Game 5 inside their house on Causeway Street.
“I was saying that form the jump: ‘This is Game 7,’” Jaylen Brown said after the win. “And we treated it as such.”
Why would a team leading a series 3-1 put such an emphasis on the fifth game of a seven-game series? That answer is twofold.
First and foremost, Boston couldn’t afford to give the 76ers any more hope than what they had already gained via their sole victory during Game 4. A loss by the Celtics Wednesday night, on their home court, would have spun the narrative and the momentum of the series: ‘Now Philadelphia is in the driver’s seat, and the pressure is all on Boston,’ the media surely would have cried out.
The Celtics wanted nothing to do with that scenario.
“We didn’t want to go back to Philly,” Brown said bluntly. “We didn’t want to keep building their momentum.”
So the Celtics erased it. Now the only team heading back to Philly this week, is Philly.
The C’s, meanwhile, have a lengthy date with Boston, where they will now remain for more than a week. Their time at home is due in large part to the fact that they finished Philadelphia off Wednesday night.
Game 1 of the Eastern Finals against Cleveland will not tip off until 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. As such, the Celtics now have a three-day window to prepare for LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
While much of that time will be spent perfecting the game plan on the practice court and in the film room, Thursday will be spent doing anything other than basketball.
“The most important thing that our team can do [Thursday] is go outside and get away from it for a day, and take a day off,” Brad Stevens said Wednesday night. “Take a deep breath.”
The Celtics surely did when Stevens delivered that message Wednesday night. They desperately needed a full recovery day, which they hadn’t had since April 5 – more than a month ago.
It has been well chronicled that Boston is playing without the services of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis, all of whom required season-ending surgeries. Unfortunately for Boston, the injuries did not stop there.
Jaylen Brown missed much of Game 7 against Milwaukee and then all of Game 1 against Philadelphia after he suffered a strained right hamstring. He returned to the lineup for Game 2 against the Sixers and was eased back into the lineup while clearly displaying trepidation with regard to the injury. He maxed out with 31 minutes played Wednesday night.
The Celtics also just lost reserve guard Shane Larkin during Game 4 against Philadelphia when he suffered a severely sprained left shoulder. Stevens said Wednesday morning that Larkin is out for “the foreseeable future.” How that timetable is affected by Boston winning the series against Philadelphia, no one knows, but three days off can’t be a bad thing.
Also, amid Larkin’s injury, Boston essentially used a seven-man rotation during Game 5 to finish off the 76ers. Two of those seven players, Aron Baynes and Al Horford, spent the last five games bodying up with 7-foot behemoth Joel Embiid. The other five spent their time either chasing Philadelphia’s shooters around all series long, jostling with post- and perimeter-threat Dario Saric all series long, or both.
To put it plainly, in Tatum’s words, “This was a tough series.”
After completing that series in five games, these guys need time to recover. Better yet, as Tatum said, they deserve time to recover.
The Celtics earned the right to take Thursday off and to go outside for a breath of fresh air. Then, come Friday, it will be on to Cleveland, as the Celtics will begin preparation for their attempt to dethrone the king.