The Celtics come into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals down 0-3 and on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. The Celtics were mostly competitive in the first two games, getting out to a lead in both games but fading down the stretch to lose Game 1 123-116 and Game 2 111-105. But in Game 3, the Celtics were never competitive and seemed like they had already given up early in the first quarter. They never put up any fight whatsoever, falling behind by 33 at one point in the game.
A team that is down 0-3 really has very little hope based on the history of the league. 149 teams have gone down 0-3 in the playoffs all time. Since 1984 when the NBA went to the 16 team playoff format, 110 teams have gone down 0-3 in a series. Of the 149 teams overall and the 110 since 1984, NO team has come back from being down 0-3 to win a playoff series. You might say that going down 0 games to 3 is the kiss of death for playoff hopes.
The Celtics, however are not ready to give up. Joe Mazzulla, after taking the blame for the Game 3 collapse, said that he has faith in his players to pull this out. Al Horford said that the Celtics are not out yet and if they can find their defensive DNA once again, they have a chance. Jaylen Brown said that they would fight until the end and that they needed to come out and play with pride. Celtics fans would like nothing more to see the team find that defensive identity and show some fight.
There is a Boston precedent of coming back from an 0-3 deficit, although not the Celtics. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox faced the rival New York Yankees in the ALCS. They lost the first 3 games in the series and were trailing in the ninth inning of the fourth game. They came back to win the final 4 games of that series and then went on to sweep the St Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win the title. Along with this Red Sox team, 4 hockey teams have recovered from being down 0-3 in the playoffs to win the title. But, no NBA team has ever accomplished this feat.
After a brief stint in the starting lineup where Joe Mazzulla brought back the double big lineup, Robert Williams was sent back to the bench in favor of starting Derrick White once again in Game 3. I’m not sure what he will do in this game. It’s not like either choice was very successful. Although, at least the games where Timelord started were competitive, unlike Game 3 where they didn’t put up any fight at all. I’m going to guess that White will start once again in this game in favor of single big lineups.
Although several Celtics, including Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, appear to be banged up in one form or another, the only one on the injured list is Danilo Galliari who remains out as he rehabs a torn ACL. For the Heat, Victor Oladipo is out for the season after having patellar tendon surgery in his left knee. Tyler Herro also remains out after breaking the middle and ring fingers on his right hand in the first round series against Milwaukee. In addition to those two, Kevin Love is listed as probable with a lower leg injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo
2 Way Players
Tyler Herro (hand) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
Butler has played very well in this series so far and has been a thorn in the Celtics side so far in the series. He wasn’t even dominant in Game 3 as he was in Games 1 and 2. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. He shot just 38% from the field and was just 0-1 on 3 pointers. But, the role players stepped up for the Heat and they didn’t need a dominant Butler. Tatum has struggled in the 4th quarter of all 3 games games so far. But, he struggled for the entire Game 3, finishing with just 14 points while shooting 33% from the field and hitting just 1 of 7 three pointers. The Celtics need more from him on both ends of the court in order to win. Even if Jaylen Brown starts at small forward, the key matchup is between the two stars.
Al Horford vs Bam Adebayo
In Game 1, Adebayo had 20 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal. In Game 2, he finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds, and 9 assists. Like Butler, he had a very quiet Game 3, finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He is dangerous around the basket to score and to grab rebounds. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. When he is aggressive, he can be a big problem.
Celtics Role Players vs Heat Role Players
Even with the Heat stars having quiet games, their role players stepped up and ran away with the game. Gabe Vincent starred in Game 3, finishing with 29 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He shot 78.6% from the field and 66.7% beyond the arc. Caleb Martin finished with 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. He shot 63.6% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc. Duncan Robinson finished with 22 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 63.6% from the field and 71.4% from beyond the arc. It’s pretty obvious that no defense was being played by the Celtics. The Celtics need their role players to step up in this one and support the efforts of their stars, especially on the defensive end.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the biggest key to winning every game and is even more important in the playoffs. And, defense has been the biggest failing for the Celtics in all 3 games so far. When the Celtics play tough on the defensive end that usually leads to their strong offense but with that defense missing, the Celtics offense has also been off. The Celtics allowed the Heat to shoot 56.8% from the field and 54.3% from beyond the arc in Game 3. Most of the Celtics who spoke after Game 3, including the coach, admitted that their defensive identity was missing. The Celtics simply must play better defense in this game, especially in the 4th quarter, if they want to win.
Rebound - As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to grab rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of the game as well. The Celtics were out-rebounded in both Games 1 and 2. However, they out-rebounded the Heat 57-35 in Game 3 with 21 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. That was in part because of the Celtics missing so many shots and the Heat hitting most of theirs. The Celtics have to work harder on the boards than the Heat and win the rebounding battle if they want to win this game.
Take Care of the Ball - In all three games so far, the Celtics have been sloppy with the ball and turned it over way too much. In Game 1, they had 15 turnovers for 22 Heat points. In Game 2, they had 15 turnovers once again for 20 Heat point. In Game 3, they once again had 15 turnovers for 18 Heat points. They have to make crisp passes and be aware of the defenders who are very good at getting into the passing lanes. They have to be careful when handling the ball and not dribble into a crowd and not get sloppy with the ball. They simply must be more focused on avoiding turnovers.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. For the first 3 games, they have allowed the Heat to be more aggressive and to play with more energy and effort. The Celtics must be more aggressive in driving to the basket, in diving for loose balls, in boxing out and going for rebounds, and they have to be the team that just plays harder. The Celtics must especially be more aggressive on defense. They have to have each other’s backs and they have to play smart team defense.
Stay Focused - A lot of the Celtics problems can be attributed to a lack of focus. Shooting 29% from beyond the arc in the playoffs shows a lack of focusing on taking the right shots and focus on hitting those shots. They also have not shown any focus on playing defense. Their turnovers also show a lack of focus on handling the ball and passing the ball. The Celtics must come into this game focused and keep that focus throughout the game. The Heat have gotten into the Celtics heads and they have to focus on playing the game the right way and on playing hard and on playing defense.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing on the road for the first time in this series. They need to get past the distractions of travel and being away from their homes and families and they have to keep from being rattled by the hostile crowd. The Celtics have to tune that out and play their game the right way. They have played better on the road than at home so far in the playoffs and they need to find that road focus in this game.
Coaching - Joe Mazzulla has come under much scrutiny for his lineup decisions, his lack of time outs, and other coaching decisions he has made. He took the blame for the Celtics complete no show in Game 3. There have been calls from fans and analysts alike for the Celtics to fire him after the season. Spoelstra has clearly gotten the upper hand in this series so far. Can Mazzulla prove the doubters wrong and lead his team to a win in this one?
Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. Some favor the home team. Some favor the road team. Some just make bad, head scratching calls. At times the officials have an agenda of some sort. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls and no calls take them out of the game or affect their focus. The Celtics simply must stop complaining about every single call. Focus on playing the game and not on the officials.