MIAMI — What now? Does Kevin Millar come to the Garden Thursday with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s?
It’s only one game, but the Celtics crawled out of a hole Tuesday and finally beat the Heat, 116-99, to stay alive in their Eastern Conference final series. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were at the game and I’m hoping some wiseguy asked The Captain if he believes a team from Boston can win four straight after trailing, three games to none.
Between now and Thursday, the Celtics and their fans will be reminding everyone that the Red Sox turned that trick against the Yankees in 2004.
When the Celtics were annihilated in Game 3 Sunday, Millar knew his phone was going to blow up.
“I get requests for hockey teams, high school teams, you name it,” he said Monday. “I had to do one for Chad Bradford [Millar’s teammate with the Sox in ‘05] the other day. He called me and said, ‘Hey, buddy, haven’t seen you in a while. Need you to make a call for me to inspire a team I’m coaching. Can you send ‘em a message?’
“Until somebody else does it, that clip lives forever and it gets used for any team that gets down, 3-0.”
“That clip” refers to Millar’s maniacal message of optimism that was beautifully captured in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “Four Days in October."
Millar was wired for sound as he bounced around Fenway in the hours before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The Sox had been savaged, 19-8, at Fenway one night earlier and trailed in the series, 3-0. But Millar was upbeat, telling everyone, “Don’t let us win this game. Don’t count the Sox out. It never happened in the history of baseball, but if there’s a group of idiots that can do it, it’s us."
He was eager to talk with me that night because I’d written that the Sox were in danger of being remembered as a “pack of frauds” if they got broomed by the Yankees.
“Let me tell you, don’t let us win today," he told me during batting practice. “Cause we got Petey tomorrow and we got Shill Game 6 and in Game 7 anything can happen. We can have you out there. I’ll put you at second base. ‘Dan Shaughnessy, batting ninth.’ In Game 7 anything can happen, and then you can take that fraud comment back and we’ll be in the World Series. Don’t let the Sox win this game."
You all know what happened. The ‘04 Red Sox remain the only team in baseball history to come back from an 3-0 deficit in postseason play. It’s never happened in the NBA. The Lakers Monday became the 150th NBA team to lose a series after trailing, 3-0.
Tuesday night at Kaseya Center, the Celtics were looking for the ‘04 Sox magic. Rookie coach Joe Mazzulla said as much. Mazzulla was a teenage Sox fan in Johnston, R.I., when Millar and Co. broke the curse and said, “It helps us keep that narrow-minded focus that something like that has been done before.”
Celtic players appeared to have been coached in Millar 101 as Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford channeled Millar at shootaround.
“We just got to go out and figure out how to get a win, and I think once we do that, all this disconnect stuff will go out the window," said Smart. “I feel very good about tonight. Just don’t let us get one."
“It’s crazy that no one’s ever done it in basketball," said Millar. “I’ve been watching the whole series and I noticed the Celtics didn’t seem to have much urgency in that third game. We got our ass kicked in Game 3 in ‘04 but we still worked our butts off. Then you called us frauds and that got me going.
“There’s probably a few guys in the Celtic locker room that don’t believe. And there might be a few that do. But it’s all mind-set in sports. If you’re the Celtics you can either go there and feel sorry for yourselves and order your car for vacation, or you can go there and fight to get a W. It’s not winning four in a row. It’s fighting to get that first W.”
They showed some spine and finally got that W Tuesday. It was almost as if someone had called them “frauds” after Game 3.
The Celts trailed by 9 in the first quarter, by 6 at halftime, then took control with an 18-0 run early in the third. They led by 18 late in the fourth. It was easily Boston’s best ball of the series.
“The Celtics were total favorites before the series," said Millar. “The Celtics are better than the Heat. The Heat are playing great now, but your star has to step up. Tatum has to score 45 or 50. End of story … That’s what Big Papi did for us and that’s what the Celtics need right now."
Tatum finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. He Cowboyed Up.
Now they’ve got Pedro and Schill lined up and … well, anything can happen in a Game 7.