We are four games into this bizarro Eastern Conference final and the only takeaway is that No One Knows Anything and it’s now a best-of-three with Miami holding home-court advantage the rest of the way.
Folks in these parts certainly think the Celtics are the better team and there was nothing on display at TD Garden Monday that would dispute that notion. In a wildly unpredictable series that’s seen sparse late-game drama and multiple beatdowns by both squads, it was the Celtics turn to freeze the Heat in a 102-82 Game 4 rout.
“We didn’t want to go down 3-1,’’ said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “It wasn’t our best offensive night [39.7 percent shooting from the floor], but we can always rely on our defense. We can do that even if our shots are not falling.’’
If the Celtics don’t win this series and advance to the NBA Finals, this will go down as one of the biggest blown opportunities in Boston sports history.
Seriously. I keep walking away from the gym after these games asking myself, “Why is this thing even close? The Celtics are just so much better.”
And yet . . . it’s 2-2 and the other guys have home-court advantage.
Boston’s Game 4 beatdown of the hobbled Heat was an exclamation point for the locals. After rolling over embarrassingly in the first quarter of a Game 3 loss, the Celtics came out and made a statement, racing to an 18-1 lead that was 29-11, after one, and 57-33 at intermission. ABC/ESPN can’t be happy. There’s been a 20-point first-half lead by one team in each of the first four games.
One of the more amusing quirks of this series has been the Celtics’ new metric regarding “winning quarters.”
It’s ridiculous, of course — much like Dan Duquette’s 2001 claim that the Red Sox spent “more days in first place” than the division-winning Yankees, who finished 13½ games ahead of Boston.
The Celtics have lost only three of 16 quarters in this series. And if you don’t know that, they will tell you so. Udoka introduced the odd metric after the Game 1 loss, pointing out that his team won three of the four quarters in the 11-point loss.
I asked Udoka about this new stat before Monday’s blowout victory.
“It’s about being consistent and not falling off a cliff,’’ he said. “We like to hold teams to mid-low 20s [per quarter] in every game.’’
All good, I guess. The Celtics won three quarters in Game 1, but lost because of a 39-14 Miami third. In Saturday’s home Game 3, the Celtics lost only one of the four quarters, but it was a 39-14 first-quarter humiliation that proved too much to overcome.
The rest of the time, it’s been pretty much all Celtics.
That still doesn’t win you the series.
Old-timers will remind young folk that the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Yankees in a seven game Fall Classic in which the Bronx Bombers outscored the Bucs, 55-27. If there had been analytic geeks in those days, the nerds no doubt would have insisted that the Yankees should have been awarded the championship, based on “winning more innings.’’
Marcus Smart (ankle) didn’t play Monday. The Heat went without Tyler Herro (groin) and Jimmy Butler (knee inflammation) was a shell of himself (3 for 14, 6 points). Many others are wounded and the Celtics no doubt are worried about Robert Williams III (seven weeks removed from meniscus surgery), who looked gimpy when he came off for good in the third quarter.
Wise guys in Vegas loved the Celtics in this game, picking Boston by 7. In a series with little to zero carryover (much like the conference semifinal vs. the Bucks), this made Boston a whopping favorite.
It would be hard to overstate how bad the Heat were.
Miami missed its first 14 floor shots, fell behind, 18-1, in the first seven minutes, trailed by 22 (26-4) with two minutes left, and made only 3 of 20 shots in the first 12 minutes. Jayson Tatum (31 points) scored 12 for the Celtics in the quarter and new dad Derrick White had 10, but it was Boston’s defense that did the damage to the visitors.
Al Horford stripped Bam Adebayo (five shots, 9-point no-show) on Miami’s first possession and White went off for 7 quick points (transition layup, 3-pointer, short jumper in traffic) to give Boston a 7-0 lead. The Celtics never trailed on the night, just as they never held a lead in Game 3. Go figure.
When it got to 26-4, it felt like the game was already over. Not even the presence of menace official Scott Foster could alter the outcome of this one.
The Celtics ran the lead up to 32 (69-37) midway through the third. When Miami cut the margin 23 with an 8-0 run, an irritated Udoka called time with 30.1 seconds left in the period. After the pause, Tatum canned a three to assure that the Celtics would not lose the quarter.
I bumped into Heat boss Pat Riley backstage during the final quarter. He seemed oddly calm and composed, considering this beatdown.
The Celtics feel like a lock to win this series. So what does Riley know that we don’t know? What does he see that we don’t see?
It’s as if nobody’s told Riley that the Celtics are dominating and have only lost three of 16 quarters in this series.
More games in first place.