By Arnie Leshin
It was apparent, the 2nd-seeded Boston Celtics were just trying to save their season.
Behind in games 3-0 and down nine points in the third quarter, they were on the brink of elimination playing at the 8th-seeded Miami Heat Tuesday night.
But just like that, everything looked different. Led by star forward Jayson Tatum and a balanced attack that put six players in double figures, they found a way to survive, to return to Boston Thursday night with a chance to further close the gap.
The two big differences, a 30-point edge for Boston from beyond the arc, and a third quarter 18-0 run that changed the game, and they hope, could end up changing the series.
Said first-year head Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla: “We can’t relax, we have to keep the same level of intensity, the same mindset, the same focus in the next game.”
He’s got that down right, for the next game could again be his team’s finale of the National Basketball Association season and move Miami into the championship game against Western Conference winner Denver Nuggets.
Denver has never gotten this far before, it has never won the championship in its 47 years of existence, but it sure looked like its hunt was over after sweeping the 7th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in four games.
They could draw the Heat, which has won the league title three times, unless Boston can find a way to get there and break its record of 11 championships shared with the Lakers.
But no team in NBA history has ever successfully
rallied from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, 150 have tried, 150 have failed.
“Tonight, we played with pace, purpose,” said Tatum, “we were getting stops, getting out on transition. You see layups and free throws go in, and the jump shots start to feel a lot easier.”
Tatum turned in the game-high 33 points, took down 11 rebounds and dished out seven assists. He had plenty of help from Brown’s 17 points, one more than Derrick White, 14 from Grant Williams, 11 from Marcus Smart, and 12 points and seven boards from Al Horford in the post.
The Celts shot 43 from 84 from the field, converted 12 of 18 freebies, grabbed 39 rebounds, gave out 28 assists, and had 10 turnovers, eight blocks and eight steals. Then there was their 18 for 45 3s.
For the Heat, it was 34 for 78 from the floor, 23 of 28 charity tosses, 44 boards, 18 assists, 15 turnovers, a pair of blocks, and five steals to go with 8 of 32 3s.
Boston trailed 29-23 after one quarter and 56-50 at the half, but the huge third quarter had it ahead 89-79 after three, and also outscored the home side before a packed house of 20,147 that was 1,187 over the capacity.
Jimmy Butler played his usual good game, but it fell short this time. He had the team-high 29 points along with nine boards and five assists. Gabe Vincent contributed 17, Caleb Martin 16 and Bam Adabayo 10.
Boston’s time to react came after Max Strus tossed in a 3 early in the third quarter. From then on, it took over to get its fans in Bean Town land to the ticket office for Game 5.
A win in that one would bring Game 6 back to Miami, with the deciding game up in Boston as Denver waits.
This is something the Nuggets aren’t used to. They now have extra time off, added practices, and expect sellouts in games one and two. They expect to be favored no matter who they play.