Tim BontempsESPN5 minutes of reading
MIAMI — Tuesday morning shootaround ahead of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Marcus Smart had a message for the Miami Heat:
“Don’t let us get one,” Smart said. “Don’t let us get one.”
It was quite a statement as the Celtics entered Game 4 down 3-0 in this best-of-7 series — a deficit that 150 teams in NBA history have faced, not one of which has been successful. Recovered from
But hours later, Smart and the Celtics followed through on their part of the bargain, claiming a 116-99 victory over Miami to send the series to Boston in Game 5 on Thursday, and the Celtics are now three wins away from making history.
“Now we just have to win another one,” Smart said after finishing with 11 points and six assists in 35 minutes. “That’s all that matters. We’re taking it one game at a time. We understand the odds are stacked against us, but no matter what we’re a team that believes in us, we’ve got to keep going and it’s all about the next game.”
Boston went on a 3-0 run in the 4th after failing to overcome the adverse conditions. The Celtics slumped in Games 1 and 2, then Kaseya was blown away from center in Game 3.
Game 4, however, was a completely different story. Boston had nine late in the first quarter after a Caleb Martin 3-pointer. The Celtics trailed by nine early in the third quarter after a Max Strauss 3-pointer 90 seconds into the second half. Then, after missing their first four shots and committing three fouls in the first 2:19 of the fourth quarter, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla found the game teetering on a knife edge with the Celtics leading 88-83.
But in each of those situations, Boston responded. The Celtics went on a 17-5 run to take the lead early in the second quarter with Martin’s triple. Boston went on an 18-0 run over four minutes in the third after a Struss 3-pointer. And after a Mazzulla timeout early in the fourth, Boston got a Jayson Tatum basket — Tatum’s first fourth-quarter field goal of the series — to kickstart a 12-0 run that put the game away for good.
“That balance, that trust in each other, that connection that I think throughout a game regardless of how the game goes, those things have never waned,” Mazzulla said. “Listen, when the stakes are really high and you’re trying to achieve what we’re trying to achieve, it’s easy to lose those things because guys are playing as hard as they can.
“I thought regardless of the results, the guys stuck together.”
According to Jaylen Brown, part of the reason Boston stuck together was because of the conversations the team had together Monday afternoon after a loss in Game 3 that sent the Celtics to the brink of elimination. .
“Coming together, talking,” Brown said. “And a lot of times when you get to this point 3-0, you see locker rooms and teams start going in a different direction. We want to make sure we stay together. We want to make sure we see. We looked each other in the eye today and came out and put our best foot forward, I’m proud of our team for doing that because you see teams with their backs against the wall and you see them collapse.
“You didn’t see that tonight. You saw us come together, play defense, make the right plays, and I feel like that shows a lot about our character. The last two games.”
It didn’t hurt that the Celtics — and Tatum in particular — knocked down some shots. Boston entered the game shooting 31-of-106 (29.2 percent) from 3-point range in the first three games, compared to Miami’s 44-of-92 (47.8 percent).
“I think we can shoot the ball a lot better,” said Brown, who again had 16 points despite struggling from deep, going 1-for-5 from behind the arc. “I think I didn’t have some good shots, but tomorrow, the next game is a new game. I think we have to keep building confidence and if we keep seeing the ball go through the net, I think we’re going to feel good about ourselves.”
Tatum, meanwhile, went 11-of-15 from the field in the second half, scored 25 points and committed just one turnover after eight points and four turnovers in the first half.
Tatum had 14 of Boston’s 38 points, helping the Celtics outscore the Heat 38-23 in the frame and turn a six-point halftime deficit into a nine-point lead. He returned to the game after an early fourth-quarter timeout and kicked off a game-deciding Boston run with an elbow jumper.
“They were playing zone, and obviously we struggled against zone the first couple of plays,” Tatum said of Miami’s defense early in the fourth quarter, when the Heat held the Celtics scoreless for more than two minutes with Tatum on the clock. Bench. “So, that kind of put us on hold. So, when I came back in, he drew a play to move a little bit, found open space and then made the right play.”
Now, as the series shifts back to Boston, the Celtics have taken at least the first step toward making history.
A similar 48 minutes will be needed next on a Thursday in Boston.
“We want to come back to Miami,” Brown said.