Instant analysis from the Celtics’ win over the Heat in Game 4: Boston found its stroke from 3, showed some fight, and kept the season alive
It seems unlikely that Joe Mazzulla — or, for that matter, Danilo Gallinari — will menacingly obstruct the Celtics on the way to the Kaseya Center court prior to tipoff against the Heat Tuesday night and bellow, “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate!”
The famous warning — “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” — above the Gate of Hell in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” seems an unlikely mantra for the Celtics to embrace prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Still, the inscription carries uncomfortable relevance to a teetering team.
On Monday night, the Lakers offered a stark reminder of the daunting task facing the Celtics. Down, 3-0, in the Western Conference finals to the Nuggets, Los Angeles fell, 113-111, getting summarily swept into their offseason.
With that, the Lakers made it 150 out of 150 teams in NBA playoff history to lose a seven-game playoff series after falling behind, 3-0. If the Celtics are looking for inspiration to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series, they’ll have to turn to other sports to do so.
So, for the time being, the Celtics face smaller, more digestible challenges in the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat: What does history suggest about the likelihood that they can salvage a single victory in the series?
First of all, it’s worth underscoring that this series — with the Celtics having reached the conference finals as a No. 2 seed and the Heat seeded eighth — has already distinguished itself as a first-of-its-kind occurrence. This marks the first time a 1 or a 2 seed has fallen behind 3-0 in a series when playing a 7 or 8 seed.
But after a lopsided 128-102 loss by the Celtics in Game 3, is there any reason to think they’ll be able to claim at least one victory?
Historically, odds are against it.
• None of the 150 teams that lost the first three games of a seven-game NBA (or Basketball Association of America, a precursor to the NBA) playoff series has come back to win the series.
• A hefty 92 of those 150 teams (61 percent) got broomed away into four-game oblivion.
• Forty-four of the 150 teams (29 percent) avoided the sweep but got dispatched in Game 5.
• Eleven of the 150 teams (7 percent) claimed two wins before getting eliminated in Game 6.
• Three of the 150 teams (2 percent) forced a Game 7 and then lost.
What about the No. 2 seeds?
• There have been 23 to suffer three straight defeats to open a series. Of those, nine won Game 4, but just one of those extended the series to a sixth game, and none pushed it to a winner-take-all Game 7.
So who did extend series after sprinting straight to the brink? All three of the teams that went from down 3-0 to tied 3-3 fought their way to a Game 7 despite status as a lower seed.
• The 1950-51 Knicks were a No. 3 seed that overcame a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7 in the NBA Finals against the Rochester Royals (a No. 2 seed) before losing.
• More than 40 years later, the 1993-94 Nuggets (a No. 8 seed) forced a Game 7 against the Jazz (a No. 5 seed) before losing by 10 in the decisive game of the Western Conference semifinal.
• In 2002-03, the Trail Blazers nearly erased their 3-0 deficit as a No. 6 seed against the Mavericks (No. 3) in the first round, but the Dirk Nowitzki/Steve Nash Dallas team stood its ground.
• Of the 11 teams that won Games 4 and 5 before getting eliminated in Game 6, only two were higher seeds in the series.
What about the Celtics?
• The only Celtics team to go from down 3-0 to a sixth game did so as a No. 7 seed. The 2012-13 Celtics — the last hurrah of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — lost three straight games to open their series against the Knicks, but roared back with wins in Games 4 and 5. Alas, everything was not possible, and the Celtics were eliminated in Game 6.
• There are five other instances (prior to this year) of the Celtics falling behind in a series 3-0. In four of those, they were swept; in the other, they won Game 4 but got bounced in Game 5.
Of course, the 2004 Red Sox and a quartet of NHL teams (yes, including the 2010 Flyers, at the expense of the Bruins) illuminate that some sliver of hope remains intact for playoff teams that face four straight win-or-go-home games.
So, Dante can wait. But if the Celtics do not reverse the dynamic of the series Tuesday night, then an opportunity to start working through the offseason reading list will soon be at hand.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.