Dream big, Celtics fans. The Green Team has done this before.
The Celtics overcame a 12-point deficit, scored 41 points in the third quarter, and beat the Miami Heat Friday, 121-108, to extend their Eastern Conference finals series to a sixth game. The Celtics are attempting to become the 14th NBA team to crawl out of a 3-1 series deficit.
Sunday will be one of the great sports TV days in Boston history. We’ve got Patriots-Raiders at 1, Tom Brady at 4:25, and Celtics-Heat in Game 6 at 7:30.
“It’s back to basics,” Celtic coach Brad Stevens said after his team’s big second half. “We need to be better again in Game 6.”
“We know we have to play better,” added Jayson Tatum, who had a Larry Bird-esque 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. “We were playing for your life.”
Twice in franchise history, the Celtics have bounced back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Celtics player-coach Bill Russell and friends trailed Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers, 3 games to 1, in the conference finals in 1968, then came back to win three straight. At that hour, no NBA team had ever turned the trick. The Celtics won Game 7 in Philly while Wilt took only two shots in the second half.
In 1981, the Celtics did it to the Sixers again, winning Game 6 in Philly when Kevin McHale blocked a shot by young Andrew Toney (precursor to Tyler Herro) in the final minute. Game 7 at the Garden was a bare-knuckle brawl won when Bird banked in an 18-footer. The Celtics won the final three games of that series by an aggregate 5 points.
The message in those days was Red Auerbach telling the lads, “Until they beat you one more time, they can’t win the series. And if you don’t let them beat you one more time, you win it. Don’t let them do it tonight.”
Sounds like something Curt Schilling said in the days before he donned a tin foil cap. Schill’s rallying call in 2004 represents the mind-set the Celtics need as they prepare to play Game 6 in the bubble.
Why not? It’s been over a year and a half since one of our teams won a championship (Patriots, 13-3 over Rams in Super Bowl 53). Time to break the local title drought in Boston’s 21st century High Renaissance. NBA teams are 13-244 when down 3-1.
It’s pretty clear to some of us the Celtics are better than the Heat. The Heat are a No. 5 seed, playing a little over their heads. The Celtics have lost three games in this series by an aggregate 11 points. In Games 1, 2, 3, and 5, the Celtics had leads of 14, 17, 20, and 19 points, respectively. This is a golden opportunity to get to the Finals — where the Celtics would most likely see LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’ve had really good moments — including in this series,” Stevens said before the game. “We just haven’t had enough of ‘em when it’s mattered most.”
The Celtics won Game 3 with a strategy of attacking the basket. There was none of that in a putrid start to Game 5 as they came out chucking up threes and missed 11 of their first 12 shots. With five minutes to go in the first, the Celtics had one basket, four turnovers, and trailed, 17-5. Bill Walton would have said they were a disgrace to the game of basketball. Miami led, 26-18, after one. The Celts made 5 of 20 shots. Miami’s Duncan Robinson, the pride of York, Maine, and Williams College, led all scorers with 12 points.
The start of the second was worse. The Celtics looked like 12 guys who wanted out of the bubble. Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker were 4 for 17 as the Celtics fell behind by 12. Boston’s best player was Enes Kanter. The good news for the Celtics was that they took only three threes in the second period after launching a dozen in the first 12 minutes. Miami led, 58-51, at intermission.
Just when it looked as if the Celtics might pack it in, everything changed. Boston attacked the basket, played great defense, and enjoyed a 20-3 run to race to a 71-63 lead early in the third. Daniel Theis (15 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks) gave the Celtics great energy. While Celtic owner Wyc Grousbeck celebrated in the bubble, a Marcus Smart steal and a Tatum (17 in the third) breakaway dunk gave the Celtics a 14-point lead.
“In all sincerity, first time I’ve seen Celtic basketball in the last few games,” Stevens said in the huddle after the third.
The Celts were careful not to blow another big lead in the fourth. Back-to-back threes by Brown made it 103-89. Brown blew a kiss in the direction of the Heat bench after the second trey. Boston led by 16 with 6:34 left. It was pretty clear we were headed for Game 6 Sunday.
And if the Celtics can win that one . . . you know the drill. Then it’s Game 7. When anything can happen.