A game after all the basketball world agreed that Jayson Tatum’s Celtics “quit” on answerless first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla in a Game 3 embarrassment to trail the Heat 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, a funny thing happened in Game 4.
After a reported off-day trip to Top Golf to come together as a team in the midst of a media storm of reports describing its downfall and potential offseason franchise-altering teardown, Boston actually played with some pride in Game 4 in Miami, staving off elimination with a 116-99 win.
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Just two days after it appeared that “Heat Culture” had left “Celtic Pride” dead and buried, Boston showed some actual fight with its back against the wall.
Sure, there were plenty of signs to point to a Celtics’ win even with the squad playing pretty putrid basketball through the first three games. Boston hadn’t lost four games in a row in more than a year. Miami won four games in a row just once this season, none of those opponents even making the playoffs. The Celtics had been 5-1 in elimination games over the last two postseasons.
Oh, and it simply seemed unlikely that a Celtics team that was missing threes at an alarming rate, well below its season average, would continue to miss in a make-or-miss world. Likewise it felt unlikely that the Heat would continue to shoot better than 50-percent behind the arc, as it had done in two of three games while topping its regular season average of 34.4 percent in all three wins.
But allowing the law of averages to take shape will never be mistaken for a plan of attack.
Nope, the Celtics had to do their part and they were able to rally the collective downtrodden troops for at least one game.
“A lot of times when you get to this point, down 3-0, you see locker rooms and teams start to go in the other direction. We wanted to make sure that we stayed together,” Jaylen Brown said of a team that may have quit in Game 3 but apparently wasn’t ready to quit on the series and the season. “We wanted to make sure that we looked each other in the eye, and came out today and put our best foot forward.
"And I'm proud of our group for doing that. Because you see teams with their back against the wall and you see they just collapse. You didn't see that tonight. You seen us come together, you seen us play defense, you seen us make the right plays. And I feel like that shows a lot about our character, especially in a game where everything is on the line and everything has went wrong in the last couple of games.
"We didn't want to come out and lay an egg. We wanted to come out and play together. We wanted to come out and trust each other, come out and play some defense. Have some pride about yourself and find a way to win a game. We're all more than capable of doing it, so tonight we got it done."
Indeed they did.
Now the real work begins. Game 5 in Boston on Thursday night. Will the pride, shooting, defense and momentum carry over from the must-win Game 4 effort? Can a team that heading in ESPN “analytics” claimed had a 97-percent chance to win this series put a little pressure on the seemingly far less talented Heat?
No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit. Not in 150 chances. But of those 150, 92 were swept right into the offseason, including LeBron James’ Lakers just this week. At least these suddenly potentially prideful Celtics avoided that.
They got one in Miami. Can they avoid adding to the group of 44 teams that went quietly into the summer in Game 5? Maybe get Erik Spoelstra’s team to really tighten up by at least getting to Game 6, where 11 teams bowed out over the years?
Supposedly, pride cometh before the fall. But maybe with these talented-but-frustrating Celtics, maybe pride actually cometh before the comeback.
It worked for one night.