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“Don’t let us get one.”
“Don’t let us win tonight.”
That was the message Tuesday morning from Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, respectively, as the Celtics faced elimination, trailing the Heat 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was a message Boston fans had heard before, back in 2004 when the Red Sox trailed the Yankees 3-0 in the American League Championship Series.
Before Game 4, Kevin Millar told the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, “Don’t let us win today.”
The Yankees did let Boston win that day, and then the Red Sox won three more to become the first – and still only – MLB team to win a series after trailing 3-0.
Well, just like that Yankees team, the Heat let Boston win Tuesday night. The Celtics didn’t need a Dave Roberts steal or a David Ortiz walk-off home run to win this one, as they instead took control with a dominant 38-23 third quarter and then slammed the door shut with a 12-0 run early in the fourth.
So, could the Celtics really copy the 2004 Sox and become the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-0 down to win a series?
If you believe in omens, well, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter – two members of those choking ’04 Yankees – were in attendance Tuesday night.
Omens aside, there are on-court reasons to believe the Celtics maybe, just maybe have a chance to pull this off. The formula to win Game 4 wasn’t all that complicated.
They finally shot the ball well, especially from three. Their 18 threes were seven more than they had made in any of the first three games, and their 40% shooting from deep was their best mark of the series. They finally defended well, especially on the perimeter. They held the Heat to 99 points after surrendering at least 111 in each of the first three games. The Heat finally missed some threes, shooting 25% from deep after entering the game at a 47.8% clip in the previous three games. They cut down on the turnovers, committing 10 on Tuesday after committing 15 in each of the first three games.
Jayson Tatum played like the star he is supposed to be for the first time in this series, leading the team with 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Twenty-five of his points came in the second half. After not making a single field goal in the fourth quarter through three games, he had 11 fourth-quarter points in Game 4 on 5-of-7 shooting. Role players stepped up as well, with Derrick White scoring 16, Grant Williams 14, Al Horford 12, and Marcus Smart 11. All of Smart’s points came in the second half.
There’s no reason the Celtics can’t do that again on Thursday, and then maybe again on Saturday, and, hey, why not again on Monday? Of course, they could also just fall apart on any of those three nights as well, like they did in Games 1-3. The most consistent thing about these Celtics has been their inconsistency.
History would tell us that the chances of the Celtics pulling off this comeback are still extremely small. But the same was true for the Red Sox 19 years ago.
If there’s any lesson the Celtics can learn from those Sox, besides warning their opponent to not let them win one, it should be that they can’t expect anything to get easier just because they won one.
The ’04 Sox had to come from behind again in Game 5, and they needed Ortiz to once again be the star with another walk-off hit. Curt Schilling had to pitch through a bloody sock in Game 6, and they found an unlikely hero in Mark Bellhorn, who hit the decisive three-run homer. It wasn’t until Game 7 that the Sox finally had room to breathe in a 10-3 blowout.
The Celtics aren’t going to front-run their way to three more wins. They’ll need a comeback or two. They’ll need Tatum to continue to lead the way and avoid the disappearing act we saw in Games 1-3. They’ll need their Bellhorns to step up, like Grant Williams did Tuesday. Someone will have to perform despite not being 100% -- hey, Jaylen Brown looks banged up and not really himself, right?
Will the Celtics pull this off? Who knows. Anyone who still thinks they can predict this team with any level of certainty is a fool. But can they? Sure, because they at least gave themselves a chance – and the Heat let them win one – on Tuesday, and that’s where it had to start.