BOSTON – Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid delighted from home in a miserable loss to the Celtics, as the Atlanta Hawks’ 119-117 victory in Game 5 on Tuesday allowed his sprained right knee to take two more days off.
Inside the Boston locker room, Marcus Smart couldn’t find the exit fast enough. Jayson Tatum, the No. 2 seed’s superstar answer to Embiid, sat dejected, his knees shrouded in ice, one hand covering his face as he stared intently at his phone, long after the rest of his teammates had gone. are showered, dressed and filtered.
In the halls of TD Garden, Celtics executives, staff and family members were stunned by the loss, even angry, as they all understood the repercussions of not closing their first-round series .
“I gave them life and shit,” said one.
“Now they have to go back to Atlanta,” said another.
“I’m not going with them.”
That’s what Atlanta’s Trae Young does to his opponents. Despite all his weaknesses, the little ringleader shoots for their hearts, and when he connects, he revels in their pain. And, man, did he connect on a 30-footer over Jaylen Brown with 2.8 seconds left. Young’s trey fifth of the night erased Derrick White’s free throws moments earlier and brought his seventh-seeded Hawks down to 3-2 in this best-of-seven.
The 3-pointer came 47 minutes and 47 seconds after Young’s first of 38 points – naturally another triple from the opening point. Between the two, he played 44 minutes, including the entire second half without suspended teammate Dejounte Murray, and Atlanta trailed for the vast majority of them.
The Celtics led up to 13 points in the fourth quarter and 111-99 with 5:24 left on the clock – and presumably in the series. Young paid no attention to it. He found Onyeka Okongwu for a lay-up and his 13th assist of the night. Back-to-back buckets from John Collins cut the lead in half, and Young drilled a 27-footer to pull the Hawks up 111-108 at the three-minute mark, drowning out the last of the “overrated” chants from the Boston crowd.
“When people do that, I think it’s just total respect,” said Young, who struggled a lot in Boston’s first two games. “They don’t do that to everyone. You know what I mean. I’ve been in the moment all my life. That’s what I do. I’m not afraid of it. I’ve worked too hard to be afraid of right now.”
Young tied the game with a 26-footer on the next possession. After a Robert Williams III return returned the lead to Boston, Young drew a foul from Al Horford and Tatum’s complaint on the call resulted in a technical foul. Young made all three free throws for a 114-113 advantage and Atlanta’s first lead since well before halftime.
“Fourth quarter, close game, being with Trae my whole career, I know what time it is – it’s Ice Trae time,” said Collins, who added 22 points. “He’s doing his thing. He’s clutch, and he wants to be in those moments. He wants the big shot. It’s just normal for me to see him go into that mode and do what he does.”
Tatum found Williams for an alley-oop and a one-point advantage with 25.6 seconds left. Young and White traded free throws, setting the stage for the 30-footer who returned the series to Atlanta for Game 6.
“The shots started coming in,” Young said, “and kept coming in.”
When the buzzer sounded on Tatum’s errant response, Young had scored Atlanta’s final 14 points and single-handedly outshot Boston’s vaunted offense by eight points in the final five minutes of the game.
“When you bring a team to life,” said Brown, who scored a team-high 35 points, “you let luck decide.”
As soon as Young walked into the locker room following his winner, he FaceTimed Murray, who will be available Thursday night.
“I told him to be ready,” Young said. “I told him before the game that we were going to take care of business so he could play in Atlanta, so I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in Atlanta.”
Young’s heroism punctuated Boston’s comedy of errors on the stretch. The Celtics have committed four turnovers in the last five minutes. Blake Griffin saw his first game time of the series in the fourth quarter. First-year coach Joe Mazzulla benched Malcolm Brogdon and replaced White — their third-best player in the series — with Smart, all as Atlanta overtook Tatum and returned to athletics. Smart inexplicably fouled Young at midcourt after Boston regained the lead with 15.8 ticks remaining, and White’s entry pass in the final seconds never found Horford, who had set his position on the block.
“We just kind of lost our rhythm on the offensive end, partly because I was trying to make sure we were running a good play,” said Mazzulla, who did not call a timeout when the lead swung. has evaporated. “We’re talking about playing faster down the home stretch, and we lost some of our pace, which allowed them to put pressure on us and put us in the passing lanes.”
Two days after Tatum stressed the importance of winning Game 5 and avoiding the extended streak that contributed to his burnout in last season’s Finals, he was soaking in the sweat of a familiar mediocre effort.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Celtics and their families had cleared the long hallway of media availability to the locker room, where a smiling youngster walked by, sipping a small cup of water. Iced, we guess.
“It was loud,” he said of the once noisy arena he silenced.