Celtics are one step closer to an unlikely comeback against Miami
“I think once we got together, we all looked into each other’s eyes and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going out like that.'”
The Celtics have been facing unlikely odds for almost a week.
But their messages haven’t faltered since falling into a 3-0 gap against the Miami Heat.
“Let’s not win,” was the mantra repeated by both Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown Tuesday — just hours before Boston kept its season alive with a Game 4 win at the Kaseya Center.
And minutes after the Celtics became just the 13th team to force a Game 6 from three straight losses, Brown stuck to a familiar and focused script.
“They made us get two, so let’s not get another one,” Brown said on TNT’s broadcast after Boston’s win in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday.
The Celtics are halfway to a seemingly impossible goal. They are the 150th team in NBA history to suffer a 3-0 hole in a best-of-seven series. The first 149 each lost their series.
But in the last two games, the momentum has shifted back in Boston’s favor, and that energy carried over to the rowdy TD Garden crowd on Thursday night.
“We have the best fans in the league,” said Jayson Tatum. “Up until now, in this series, we haven’t given them much cause for celebration at home. I’m glad our performance matched the energy they gave us.”
With only one game between them and elimination, some of the cornerstones of the Celtics’ success this season are back on the rise.
After sinking just 29 percent of their 3-point attempts in the first three games of this series, Boston is now shooting up to 40.4 percent from long range in Games 4 and 5. In competitions where the Celtics shoot 40% or more from distance with a 3-point range, they are now 38-2 this season.
Add in a stingy, cohesive defensive attack at the other end of the field (16 turnovers in Miami) and Boston rewrites history in a streak where the Celtics were viewed on paper as the superior team.
Finally, Joe Mazzulla and his team are proving it on the court.
“One of our assistants put it in great perspective. “The season lasts about nine months and we’re just having a bad week,” Mazzulla said of Boston’s lackluster performance in Games 1-3. “Sometimes you have a bad work week. Of course we didn’t pick the best time for a bad week, but we did. We stick together and fight like hell to keep it alive and the boys are really coming together.”
There was no critical off-day meeting for Brown to “shake up” this roster again ahead of Game 5. Given the risks, Boston didn’t have to dig deep to find the urgency needed to keep hitting back.
“I think once we got together, we all looked into each other’s eyes and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going out like that.’ We represent the organization, but we also represent ourselves and our family,” Brown said. “And obviously we didn’t perform as well as we thought we needed to. So Game 4 was the beginning of that atonement. And now we’ve been able to pick that up in Game 5 and hope we can continue it in Game 6.”
The Celtics may be in uncharted territory trying to stage a comeback from a 3-0 deficit. But a 3:2 series disadvantage? The same group cleared those hurdles against the Bucks (2022) and Sixers (2023) in both Eastern Conference semifinals in the last two postseasons.
Aside from the talent and potential that exists within this Celtics roster, Tatum doesn’t discount the courage and mental strength that this group has developed over the past few years.
“For some weird reason, we always seem to give ourselves a little hard time last year,” Tatum said. “But what I do know is that you can see the true character of a person, of a team, when things aren’t going well. And our ability to come together and work things out when things aren’t looking too good for us – that’s unlike any other team I’ve played on this year and last year.
“The core group of people who are able to respond and I think that’s just one thing [testament] to our togetherness, obviously how much we want it. We have a room full of determined, tough guys who, when push comes to shove, will look left and right believing that the guy next to you will do whatever it takes and fight when he’s not training .”
Brown said the Celtics expect a “dogfight” in Game 6 in Miami Saturday night. Jimmy Butler and the Heat will look to land a knockout punch in hopes of avoiding a crucial showdown in the rowdy Garden on Monday.
But for the first time in a long while, it seems like this C’s team is ready and willing to strike back.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Brown said. “We are a resilient group. We’ve been through a lot. Obviously it’s the first time I’m in this situation. But it’s first for everything. So we don’t look at it like we’re outside. Just take one game at a time and just breathe, play basketball, take our time and do what we’re supposed to do and I think we’ll be fine.
“It’s a blessing to be able to play this game every night. It’s a blessing to be in the playoffs. There are highs, there are lows. Intense moments, moments [you’re] pissed off. There are moments when you get extremely excited. It’s breathtaking. The next two games should be fun.”
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