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After Boston’s unbelievable, rollercoaster, buzzer-beating Game 6 win Saturday night, Jaylen Brown summed up what these last two weeks have felt like for him and his teammates, but also for Celtics fans everywhere.
“We feel like we’ve been to hell and back,” Brown said.
We all do. Things could not have been looking any bleaker last Sunday night, when an embarrassing 128-102 loss in Miami dropped the Celtics into an 0-3 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Coach Joe Mazzulla was surely about to be fired. The future of the Brown-Jayson Tatum duo seemed to be in serious jeopardy, with both virtually no-showing to that point in the series. Both making All-NBA was nice, but this was where they were supposed to be showing that they were worth a combined $600 million in supermax deals.
A week later, the Celtics are knocking on history’s door. They’ve won three straight and now have a chance Monday night in Game 7 to become the first team in NBA history to win a series after going down 3-0.
Games 4 and 5 were relatively comfortable wins. Game 6 was anything but. The Celtics let a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, allowing the Heat to take a 103-102 lead with three seconds left. But then, in one of those moments that makes you believe in things like destiny, Derrick White put back the rebound off a Marcus Smart miss right at the buzzer, the ball leaving his hand with 0.2 seconds on the clock. Celtics 104, Heat 103.
To hell and back. Again.
There was a second part of that Brown quote that rings true as well.
“It all means nothing if we don’t come out and give our best effort on our home floor on Monday night,” Brown said.
Bingo. Now it’s time to complete the journey. Three other teams in NBA history have come back from 3-0 down to force a Game 7, only to then lose Game 7: The 1951 New York Knicks, 1994 Denver Nuggets, and 2003 Portland Trail Blazers.
No one cares. No one remembers those teams. They are footnotes in the NBA history books, mentioned only when a team like this year’s Celtics comes along with its own comeback attempt.
But if you actually complete the comeback? Yeah, you’ll be remembered if you do that. You’ll have your own chapter in the history books. Especially if you go on to win the title.
What the Celtics have done just to get to this point is impressive. They had been left for dead. They were ripped as soft, weak, heartless, and plenty of other things we’re not allowed to put into print.
They’ve shut up all of us. Teams that are any of those things roll over and get swept. They don’t claw their way out of hell like these Celtics have. They don’t lock in defensively and shut down a star like Jimmy Butler that they previously had no answer for. They don’t find a way to win even when their three-point shooting – the one thing they’ve relied on above all else this season – goes ice cold in Game 6.
“It just takes togetherness,” Brown said. “Everything was going wrong. That’s when you start to see the character of yourself. That’s when you start to see the character of your group. Don’t measure a man when everything is going well. Measure a team or a group or an individual when adversity hits. It hit us like a storm. It can’t get no worse in the playoffs and how we were playing, and look at how we responded.”
To this point, they’ve responded in the best way possible. Now they have to finish the job Monday night at TD Garden.