The final buzzer sounded at Kaseya Center to conclude Game 6 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals. And yet, the result of last night’s contest between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat was still in the balance. The Heat’s Gabe Vincent raised his arms to signal victory for Miami. Jimmy Butler and most of the Heat faithful were waving their arms in the “no good” motion to urge the officials not to count the basket. Derrick White and his Celtics teammates were frantically pointing with the “count-it” motion.
What. Just. Happened??? ICYMI: Fast forward to 2:36 of the YouTube clip above to find out – or see it again.
The Heat defended that final play almost as well as you could. Almost. The Miami defenders denied the Celtics’ best player, Jayson Tatum, the ball with a double team and the chance to beat them. Bam Adebayo covered Boston’s #2 option Jaylen Brown on the play. As you can see, Marcus Smart got open and launched a potential game-winning three. They say that the most dangerous player in basketball on a final set play is the one who inbounds the ball. Derrick White inbounded the ball to Smart and then IMMEDIATELY crashed the boards. The Heat’s Max Strus, who had helped to double Tatum, hustled to chase White.
Smart’s shot rimmed out. For a second it looked like the Heat held off the Celtics and were headed to the NBA Finals. However, Strus was less than a half-step too late to cover the defensive glass. Derrick White saved the Celtics from elimination with a put-back just before the buzzer. The refs went to the instant replay and confirmed that White’s basket was good. The Celtics had won Game 6. Just like that the Miami Heat went from having a commanding 3-0 series lead to going to a Game 7 in TD Garden on Monday.
First of all, Al Horford should be thanking Derrick White the entire flight back to Boston. With Boston up 102-100 the Celtics veteran center committed a boneheaded foul on Jimmy Butler. The Heat star was about to raise up for a semi-fade away three while leaning to his right and Horford clobbered him. It wouldn’t have been an impossible shot, but a pretty tough shot nonetheless. Why not close out and impede Butler’s vision instead? Butler is a career 32% three-point shooter. He’s also a career 84% free-throw shooter with ice in his veins. Not surprisingly, Butler then hit all three free-throws to put the Heat up 103-102 with 3 seconds to go. Horford was three seconds away from being the goat (not to be confused with the GOAT). Then White picked up his teammate and saved the Celtics’ season.
I said that the Heat defended the final play ALMOST as well as they could. Coach Erik Spoelstra defended Strus by saying he was in the correct position in double teaming Tatum as planned in the previous time out. And Strus still nearly made a play on White’s putback. The Heat’s Gabe Vincent forced Smart to take a tough fadeaway three. Caleb Martin played off Horford yet didn’t box out Tatum on the final shot. Adebayo denied Brown the ball on the inbounds pass but then boxed him out 15 feet away from the basket. Why not crash the defensive boards? Who was covering the inbounder? If either Martin or Adebayo crash the boards instead of watching the ball White never gets to the basket. Game over. Still, it was more of a heads up play by White than a breakdown by Adebayo and/or Martin. That’s not why the Heat lost, and the Celtics won.
How did we get to a Game 7? This series has been full of extreme ebbs and flows between the same two teams that battled in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. It feels as if neither team has played a complete 48-minute game in this entire series. Miami won the first three games by simply outplaying Boston. The Heat flat-out executed better than the Celtics, played great defense, AND it seemed that they got all the 50/50 balls (hustle plays). The Heat also came out of halftime and crushed the Celtics in the 3rd quarters on the first three games (4th quarter in Game 2). One week ago Miami crushed Boston 128-102 in Game 3. It looked as if the Celtics quit. It was almost a matter of time before the Heat closed out the series…
…until they didn’t. The message from the Celtics locker room was “don’t let us get one.” Boston showed grit in responding with a convincing Game 4 win in Miami. They won Game 5 in Boston. Last night’s game was a battle to say the least. Can the Boston Celtics complete the comeback from down 3-0 in the series to win the East?
Yes. Will they? That’s a different story. Here’s the case for both teams winning on Monday…
Why the Celtics will Game 7:
The Celtics are no longer coached by Doc Rivers. Rivers has lost 10 game 7s as a head coach, the most in NBA history. Boston will also be playing in front of it’s home crowd. In the history of Game 7s in NBA Playoffs, the home team wins 78.5% of the time. There’s no doubt the TD Garden crowd will be wild and rowdy come Monday night. The Celtics also possess one of the league’s most talented and deepest rosters. This team relies on the three-pointer to win. They shot 7-35 last night from downtown and still won. It just took them until Game 4 of this series to show it.
These Celtics seem to play better when their backs are against the wall. Ask the Bucks. Ask the 76ers. They’ll tell you. This Boston roster has been in pressure situations before. The Celtics have won their last five elimination games. Rookie coach Joe Mazzulla doesn’t appear to be afraid of the moment. He’s made some subtle adjustments. Boston won’t go quietly. Oh, and there’s that momentum they have coming off a last second Game 6 win. Miami thought they had it won and lost in devasting fashion. That has to count for something.
Why the Heat will Game 7:
Like Charles Barkley said during last night’s episode of “Inside the NBA,” no one in America thinks the Heat will win. I agreed with Barkley’s comments on how all the pressure shifts from the Heat to the Celtics in Game 7 being at TD Garden. Oh, and no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The Celtics may also be without 2022-23 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon in Game 7. What “Sir Charles” is probably getting at is that the Heat shift from being the favorites while up 3-0 to going back to the underdogs. Miami has been an underdog during the entire postseason. They limped into the Play-In Tournament and lost the first game. My beloved Chicago Bulls were two minutes away from sending the Miami Heat home for the season. Then the fighting Spoelstra’s flipped a switch.
Not only did the come back from 13 points down in the 4th quarter to beat the Bulls to earn the 8th seed in the East - they upset the top-seeded Bucks, upset the Knicks in the Conference Semis, and they’re one win away from being the second 8-seed from making it to the NBA Finals. On paper, the Miami Heat should not have sniffed the Finals. They even lost third-leading scorer Tyler Herro to injury in Round 1. The Heat is a hungry and resilient bunch. Eric Spoelstra may be the most underrated coach in the history of the NBA. Spoelstra IS a great coach and has gotten the absolute most out of his players. I expect that to continue in Game 7. No one expects the Heat to come back from a devastating Game 6 loss to win on Monday night – except the Miami Heat themselves. That belief is all they need.
151 teams in the history of the NBA have faced a 3-0 deficit during the NBA’s postseason. None of them, as in zero, have completed the comeback to win a series. Of those 151 teams, only three have even forced a Game 7 in their series…
The 1951 New York Knicks went down 3-0 against the Rochester Royals (who???) before coming back to force a Game 7. Can you name one player on either roster? Me neither.
In 1994, the 8th seeded Denver Nuggets took the Utah Jazz to a Game 7 in the West Semis after trailing 3-0. Those were the same Nuggets led by Dikembe Mutombo who upset the top-seeded Seattle Supersonics in Round 1 that year after being down 2-0 in the then best-of-five series.
The last team to force a Game 7 was in 2003. The Portland Trail Blazers trailed (no pun intended) the Dallas Mavericks 3-0 in their first-round matchup before Dallas prevailed in Game 7.
Overcoming a 3-0 series deficit has occurred a handful of times in other North American sports. There have been four teams in NHL (National Hockey League) history to successfully comeback from an 0-3 series hole to win:
1942 Stanley Cup Final – Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings.
1975 Stanley Cup Quaterfinals – New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgn Penguins
2010 Eastern Conference Semis – Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins
2014 Western First Round – Los Angeles Kings defeated the San Jose Sharks
It’s only happened once in MLB (Major League Baseball) history. The Boston Red Sox made one of the most improbably comebacks in North American sports history, let alone baseball history, by coming back from a 3-0 series hole to beat the New York Yankees IN THE BRONX in Game 7 back in 2004. That was the group of Red Sox “idiots” led by “Big Papi” David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling. There was the Dave Roberts stolen base, comebacks in Games 4 and 5, and Schilling’s bloody sock game in Game 6.
A team from Boston has successfully come back from down 0-3 to win a playoff series. The city has this experience. Can the Celtics comeback or will the Miami Heat prevail and take on the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals.
My head says the Heat will win. My heart says, “screw it,” by making me believe that the Celtics will win Game 7 and make history. Either way Monday night’s game should be a classic!
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