It's Not Hard to See How Boston Celtics Can Make NBA HistoryMay 26, 2023
In spite of a wealth of talent and one of the best balanced rosters in the NBA, this Boston Celtics team just doesn't seem to want anything easy.
They trailed in two playoff series they won last year. They lost a potential closeout game at home in the 2023 first round against the Atlanta Hawks. They trailed the Philadelphia 76ers 3-2 in the last round.
And when they opened the Eastern Conference Finals with three straight losses, the idea of them returning to the Finals felt impossible.
By now, you've seen the number. Prior to this season, NBA teams were 0-149 in series in which they trailed 3-0.
But Boston has convincingly won each of the last two games. On Thursday, it smashed the Heat, 110-97, in a contest that was neither as close as the score suggests nor ever remotely in doubt.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Marcus Smart combined for 89 points on 32-of-57 (56.1 percent) shooting.
And perhaps just as important, the Celtics held Jimmy Butler to 14 on 5-of-10 from the field.
Over the last six quarters of this series, Boston has outscored the Heat by 36 points. A momentum shift that dramatic is hard to ignore, but the signs for this (and the potential for the first 3-0 comeback in league history) were in place before Game 4.
The Celtics had (by a pretty wide margin) the best point differential in the NBA this season. They were plus-535, while the Heat were 21st at minus-26.
Boston was second in threes made and sixth in three-point percentage. Miami was 17th and 27th in those two categories. And the player who led their team in regular-season threes, Tyler Herro, hasn't played a second in this series thanks to an injury.
The Heat also capped off an underwhelming regular season with a loss in the first play-in game to the Atlanta Hawks. They were down after three quarters in their second play-in game against the Chicago Bulls.
From that point through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, much of what we thought we knew about the Heat disintegrated. They went 8-3 in the first two rounds and made 47.8 percent of their three-point attempts in Games 1 through 3.
Miami was one of the best shooting teams in basketball in 2021-22, so perhaps the 2022-23 regular-season numbers were the mirage. Either way, given what we'd seen from the Heat in this campaign, most of this playoff run was legitimately shocking.
The last two games (or last six quarters, really), is what aligns more closely with expectations for this series.
Prior to its start, the Celtics' odds to sweep were +400. Miami's odds to win the series in any number of games was, well, +400.
Think about that for a second. The bookmakers thought a Boston four-game runaway was as likely as any kind of win for the Heat.
And the way Thursday's Game 6 played out reflected that.
From the opening tip, even through the TV, you could hear and feel the overwhelming energy from the Celtics and the TD Garden crowd. It was practically oozing through the broadcast.
Boston secured its first double-digit lead within six minutes. It was up 15 by the end of the first quarter. Its win probability was over 90 percent for the overwhelming majority of the game.
By the early minutes of the fourth quarter, TNT's crew announced that the Celtics had become the first team in playoff history with 12-plus steals and 12-plus threes from their starters.
And as hyper-specific as that stat is, it does tell the story of that game and this team pretty well.
Boston has the talent to completely overwhelm its opponents on both ends of the floor. It's bad enough when the Celtics start raining threes. When that's combined by aggressive ball-hawking and crisp defensive rotations, opponents must feel stuck in a basketball tsunami.
Of course, now the series shifts back to Miami, where the Heat are 6-1 in the playoffs. After losing, being held to 14 points and having to sit the entire fourth quarter of a blowout, you can bet Butler will be as motivated as ever in Game 6.
But that one loss just happened this series. It came at the hands of the Celtics and Elimination Game Tatum.
After going for 21 points and 11 assists in the Game 5 win, Tatum is now averaging 29.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks in elimination games since the start of the 2020 Playoffs. And there's a pretty significant sample there. This was his 11th elimination game in that span.
Saturday will be his 12th. And if he and Boston can keep this up, Game 7 will be lucky No. 13 on Monday.
They put their backs as firmly against the wall as any team can when they went down 3-0, but maybe that's the only way to get the real Celtics to stand up.