Note: There are MANY reasons why I think the Heat will probably win this series. I mean, no team has ever come back from 3-0 for a reason – it’s really frickin’ hard. I’m merely making the point that IF a team is going to do it someday (and trust me, it’s going to happen), I think the Celtics have all of the ingredients to do so. So, just be optimistic with me for a couple minutes, okay?
The saying is cliche and overused, and it often lacks context, but the NBA truly is a “make or miss league,” and no team exemplifies that more clearly than the Boston Celtics. Boston shot the second most threes per game during the regular season and has shot the fourth most during these playoffs – they want to play fast, and they want to shoot lots of outside shots (Derrick White’s insertion back into the starting lineup, as well as Joe Mazzulla’s reluctance to play double-big lineups are both indications of the Celtics’ affinity for pace and space). In fact, “We need to shoot more threes” has become one of the most common postgame answers to what went wrong in any given loss. In short, the three ball is the focal point of the C’s offense.
As ESPN’s Tim Bontemps loves to point out, Boston is 37-2 on the season when they shoot above 40% from three, but just 29-31 when they shoot below that. So, yeah, the Celtics win when they shoot well from long range. In this series, Boston is 32.5% from three; Al Horford is 31.6% from three, Malcolm Brogdon is 21.4%, Tatum is 31%, and Jaylen is 12%. Eventually, you have to think that water will find its level – it’s just a matter of whether it’ll do so in these next three games.
It’s not as if the Celtics excel at driving into the paint and Miami is completely taking that away. That would be worrisome and something that a team probably couldn’t come back from, especially down 0-3. But this is different. Boston has been missing shots that they normally hit, and that means that there’s always a chance that luck could rear its head and turn things around. Shooting variance is a real thing.
Boston is… better
The Celtics are more talented than the Heat. They had a way better regular season, and they have more seasoned, highly regarded players than Miami does. The Heat are winning this series in part because Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin – two undrafted role players – are outplaying Jaylen Brown, plain and simple. And, more importantly, Miami is playing better team basketball than Boston right now. They’re more connected and in sync on both ends, and that results in fewer turnovers, fewer defensive breakdowns, and crisper offense.
However, in Game 4, the Celtics at least equaled the Heat’s level of connectivity and togetherness on both ends. And when they’re able to do that, Boston’s talent can push them over the top. They have the individual defenders – when playing hard and with focus – to keep Miami’s guards out of the paint. They should also be able to use their size, strength, and athleticism to attack some of the Heat’s slower and smaller defensive players on the perimeter and in the post. Basketball isn’t an individual game, though, so the C’s will have to bear down and find a way to be greater than the sum of their parts in order to compete with Miami for three more games. That brings me into why I think Boston, of all teams, can do just that.
This is what the Celtics do
A couple weeks ago, when Boston went down 3-2 to Philadelphia after a brutal home loss, I wrote about how the Celtics are best with their backs up against the wall – I didn’t think we should’ve counted them out so soon. Boston had to win Game 6 in Philly and then Game 7 at home, which they went on to do.
Last year, they did the same thing against Milwaukee, going down 3-2 and then coming back to win the series after winning Game 6 on the road. The C’s also won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami, further proving that they’re able to come through when difficult circumstances arise.
Even Tuesday night, the Celtics were down nine in the third quarter and down 3-0 in the series. They easily could have rolled over and given up at a few different points throughout the game; they could’ve stopped making multiple efforts on the boards and the defensive end, and they could have stopped moving the ball with purpose and pace on offense.
But, they didn’t. They responded, like they always do. Boston’s core just has a knack for coming together and figuring things out exactly when it feels like they won’t. So, it feels like they have the perfect mindset to make history. If anyone’s going to do it, why isn’t it the Celtics, right?