Tim BontempsESPN5 minutes to read
MIAMI — As soon as the Tuesday morning before the Eastern Conference Fourth Round Finals, Marcus Smart had a message for the Miami Heat:
“Don’t let us have one,” said Smart. “Just don’t let us get one.”
It was a remarkable statement, given that the Celtics entered Game 4 holed up 3-0 in a best-of-7 series — a deficit that 150 teams have faced throughout NBA history and none of them made it. recovered from.
But, just hours later, both Smart and the Celtics followed through with their part of the deal, claiming a 116-99 win over Miami, sending that series back to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday with the Celtics now three more wins out of history.
“Now we just have to get another win,” said Smart, after finishing with 11 points and six assists in 35 minutes. “That’s all that matters. We take it one game at a time. We understand the odds are stacked against us, but we’re a team that believes in us no matter what, and we just have to keep going, and all that matters is the next game.”
Boston found themselves in a 3-0 hole coming into Game 4 as they repeatedly failed to survive adverse situations. The Celtics collapsed down the stretch in Games 1 and 2, then were blown out of center Kaseya in Game 3.
But the fourth game was a completely different story. Boston was down nine times late in the first quarter after Caleb Martin’s 3-pointer. The Celtics were down nine again early in the third quarter after Max Stars’ 3-pointer 90 seconds into the second half. And then, after missing the first four shots and committing three fouls in the first 2:19 of the fourth quarter, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzola called a timeout with the Celtics leading 88-83 and the game teetering on a knife edge.
But Boston responded in each of those situations. The Celtics took a 17-5 lead after Martin’s triple to take the lead early in the second quarter. Boston went on an 18-0 run over four minutes into the third after a Strus 3-pointer. And after that Mazzulla timeout early in the fourth, Boston got a Jayson Tatum basket on the ensuing play — Tatum’s first field goal of the quarter Fourth of the series – to start a 12-0 run that put the game away for good.
“I think that poise, the trust in each other, the connection that I think about throughout the game no matter how the game goes, those things never diminished,” Mazzola said. “Listen, when the stakes are so high and you’re trying to achieve what we’re trying to achieve, it’s easy to lose those things because the guys are playing as hard as they can.
“I just thought no matter what the outcome, the guys stuck together.”
Part of the reason Boston was able to stick together, according to Gaylene Brown, was from the conversations the team had as a group together during Monday in the wake of a demoralizing Game 3 loss to send the Celtics to the brink of elimination. .
“Just get together and talk it over,” Brown said. “And like a lot of times when you get to this point 3-0 you see the dressing rooms and teams start moving the other way. We want to make sure we stick together. We wanted to make sure we looked each other in the eye and went out today and gave our best forward, and I Proud of our group for doing this because you see teams with their backs to the wall and you see they just fall apart.
“You didn’t see that tonight. We saw us come together and play defense and make the right plays, and I feel like that shows a lot about our character, especially in a game where everything is on the line and everything goes wrong in the last couple of games.”
It also didn’t hurt that the Celtics – specifically Tatum – landed some shots. Boston came into this game shooting 31-for-106 (29.2 percent) from 3-point range over the first three games, compared to 44-for-92 (47.8 percent) for Miami.
“I still think we can shoot the ball a lot better,” said Brown, who had 16 points despite again struggling with depth. “I think I had some good shots that I didn’t get in, but tomorrow, the next game will be a new one. I feel like we’re continuing to build confidence, if we keep seeing the ball go in, I think we’ll feel good about ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Tatum went 11-for-15 from the field in the second half, scoring 25 points and committing just one turnover after having eight points and four turnovers in the first half.
Tatum had 14 of Boston’s 38 points in the third, helping the Celtics outscore the Heat 38-23 in the frame to overturn what was a six-point halftime deficit to a 9-point lead. He then got back into the game after that fourth-quarter timeout and started the game-clinching run in Boston with an elbow jump.
Tatum said of Miami’s defense early in the fourth quarter, when the Heat held the Celtics scoreless for over two minutes with Tatum benched. “So, it kind of put us in the doldrums. So, when I came back, he just drew a play to get some action, find an open space, and then do the right thing.”
Now, with that series back in Boston, the Celtics have taken at least the first step toward making history.
The next day will require another 48 minutes like Thursday in Boston.
“We want to go back to Miami,” Brown said.
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