BOSTON (CBS) -- It happened so fast, making the sting of defeat all the more painful. The Celtics completely collapsed down the stretch in Game 5 against the Bucks, and will now be fighting for their lives Friday night in Milwaukee.
They have no one to blame but themselves for Wednesday night's crushing defeat.
The Celtics led by 14 early in the fourth quarter and had a six-point lead with 2:12 left after Al Horford slammed home a Jaylen Brown miss. The TD Garden was rocking, and a victory was right there. Then the Celtics let it all slip away in embarrassing fashion.
It felt like they played not to lose the game rather than to win it down the stretch.
"We gave it away," said Jaylen Brown. "We weren't as purposeful as we should have been down the stretch and it cost us."
After that Horford jam, a bloody-eyed Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday hit back-to-back threes for the Bucks to knot the game at 105-105. Giannis' three came off a Milwaukee offensive board. Holiday's make came after a Marcus Smart turnover. The Celtics did nothing to win the game, and everything to cough it up.
After Jayson Tatum put Boston back on top with a pair of free throws, Giannis got to the line on the other end with 14.2 seconds left. He made his first freebie, and then missed his second. All the Celtics had to do was grab that miss and they likely would have won the game. But they didn't, letting the Bucks come down with their 17th offensive rebound of the night.
Smart swooped in to get Giannis' miss, colliding with Jaylen Brown in the process. Brown would have had the board, but Smart only knows one speed. The ball went to Bobby Portis, who put in a layup to give the Bucks their first lead since the second quarter.
"They beat us up. That's the game right there," Smart said of Milwaukee's work on the offensive glass. "The biggest one of the night, that's it. We can't allow that."
After a Boston timeout, Tatum couldn't get open for the inbound, leaving Smart to get the ball. His baseline layup attempt was blocked by Holiday, and after a pair of Pat Connaughton free throws, Smart (again, where was Tatum?) turned it over to end the game. There would be no last-second chance to tie for the Celtics.
It was a stunning end and a devastating defeat. The Celtics had the game in their hands. A 3-2 series lead was right there. And they essentially dribbled it right off their foot.
"We fell apart execution-wise down the stretch and we lost it," said Smart. "We were hot [after the game] because we know that we did it to ourselves."
The little things matter in the playoffs, and the Celtics didn't do any of them in the final minutes of Game 5. They slowed down their offense and started settling for pullup jumpers. The Celtics shot just 3-for-11 and scored nine points over the final eight minutes of the game.
The Boston defense, which has been so good all series, failed to get stops. Milwaukee finished the game on an 11-2 run over the final two minutes.
Worst of all, the Celtics stopped taking care of the ball. Boston had five turnovers in the first three quarters on Wednesday, and then turned it over five times in the fourth quarter.
Those 17 offensive rebounds that Boston surrendered kept giving the Bucks extra chances. Milwaukee scored 20 second-chance points on Wednesday, taking 10 more shots than the Celtics.
Boston played a really good three-and-a-half quarters on Wednesday night. But then the team completely folded down the stretch. If you play that bad in crunch time, at home, in the playoffs, you don't deserve to win, and you certainly don't deserve to advance.
The Celtics understand that, and now their goal is to put Game 5 as far behind them as possible. They can't pout about this loss, because that won't help when they try to stave off elimination on Friday night.
"It stings for sure, but it's 3-2 and it's the first to four [wins]. No sense in being sad and putting your head down, because that's not going to do anything for next game," said Tatum. "Always be optimistic and believe in yourself, believe in the group that we're going to win on Friday."
"It's tough when you drop games you should win, but I believe in this group," said Brown. "If anyone can get it done, it's the Celtics."
If the Celtics believe they're the better team in this series, they need to show it in every way possible. The focus for the Celtics is now is fixing the mistakes they made in Game 5, and making sure they don't follow them to Milwaukee.
"We have to put it behind us and understand we have a great opportunity," said Ime Udoka."We proved last game we can go win one in Milwaukee, so we have to go do that and put the pressure on them in our place."
"Tonight was tough. No way around it," said Tatum. "It's how you respond and how you bounce back and we're going to be ready on Friday."
"It definitely hurts but we don't have time to feel it," said Smart. "It's really simple. If you're not ready to play the next game, don't step on that court. That's how you get ready to move on."
The Celtics are saying all the right things after such a crushing loss. Now they need to go back into the home of the defending champs and win another game to force a Game 7 in Boston.
"The series isn't over," said Tatum. "We'll take it one game at a time. Just have to win the next game, honestly."
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