Never in NBA history has a team come back from 0-3 in the NBA. It happened 150 times, and in every single one, the team with a three-game advantage reached the tiebreaker. The Boston Celtics are looking for an exception to the rule. 92 of the series, including the Nuggets against the Lakers, ended in an upset and only forced a seventh three times. Boston will be looking for more than that to come back from the bond early, and there is reason to believe it is not likely. And the first duel was already won.
Because on paper, this series meets the requirements to enter history. First, the team with a 3-0 advantage is the one with the lowest seed, the #7 Miami Heat and not the favorite like the #2 Boston Celtics, but they have home court advantage. Of the 100 teams that advanced three games, 126 had a better record than their rivals. On the other hand, the Celtics finished the season 13 games ahead of Miami, the largest difference in history between the two teams, and with 15.9% more wins, the third-highest in the regular season. But these heats are very different since they won the game, and they have already shown it against Milwaukee.
Second, in the first three games the Heat shot above the average for the season and the playoffs, while Boston scored well below: the team is playing better than expected and others are worse, but it can be normalized in a long series. Boston finally got their game back in the second half of Game 4, looking for a pass offense even behind the Miami basket, attacking the rim and moving the ball, and reducing the number of turnovers. Plus, they went back to the essence of this Joe Mazzulla team: finding three pointers. In the last game, they shot more triples from the corner (16) than in the previous two combined (14).
And third, these Celtics are, historically, a team that does better under pressure. They did this in 2022, and in 2023. Last year, when they could have quickly closed out the series against Milwaukee and Miami, they were in both to win important games at home, and in both they did and won. state Yes, the moment they went 2-1 with Golden State, they disappeared from the table, similar to this year’s semifinals with Philadelphia. When they went up 2-1, they lost two in a row, but then they knew how to save the streak with a top-flight Jayson Tatum in the last five innings. When it comes to forcing, there is nothing worse than going down 0-3 in a series, the margin for error is now zero for the Celtics. Although they already have the first step.
Keys to the Boston Celtics
The 3-pointer will be key for both teams, and the biggest challenge for the Nuggets when either team finally makes it to the finals. Denver hasn’t played a good team over the line yet, and Boston and this heat could be a challenge. In the first two games, Miami shot 51.6% and 54.3% from 3-point range, making 31 and 35 shots. He scored more than 120 points in both games. Indeed, in the last 8/32 (25%) he remained very poor and could not compete with Boston, because the Celtics also succeeded in three for the first time in the series.
But the Celtics are also coming off one of the most prolific seasons by far, with the second team making the most triples (16 per night, 1,315) and sixth in percentage, a more than efficient 37.7%. Only the golden state was released more and better. In contrast, Miami is coming off of shooting 34.4% in the regular season (fourth worst figure) and hitting only 12 triples per night, below the NBA average. In this series, the roles have completely changed, with Miami hitting more triples (13 for 12.3) and a much better percentage (41.9% for 32.5%) than its rival Boston. Maybe an anomaly, but Boston scores worse and Miami is far above average.
And it was demonstrated by shot quality, a statistic that reflects the value of each shot taking into account the position of the shooter and the defender. According to PBPstats.com, the Celtics have a margin of 0.53, which is the third-highest in these playoffs, and 0.51 in the series against Miami. In contrast, the Heat averaged 0.49 in the playoffs, the lowest of any team in the series, barring the Heat in the first round against Milwaukee. Miami is shooting well above their level again and can now close out the Bucks 4-1, which they will have a chance to do in TD Garden.
All part of the defense. Because Boston is a team that feeds the offense from the opposite side, and vice versa. The Celtics run one of the fastest offenses in the league, constantly looking to pass and scramble the opposing defense, penetrating, opening the ball to the corner and finding the free 3, driving around opposing players and forcing turnovers. Only the Dallas Mavericks shot more open or wider 3-pointers in the regular season (defender over four feet), but the Celtics couldn’t play the offensive style, mostly because of Miami’s offense. Because it is very difficult to find defense in transition behind the basket.
At the same time, Boston is hitting the offensive margin much more than it has in the regular season, both because of Miami’s defense and percentage. In the series against Miami, he averaged 11 offensive rebounds and Boston’s percentage of three-point attempts in three losses was 41%, compared to 44% in his season. If Boston changes its style of play and uses the paint much more, the Celtics’ defense will lose pace and allow Miami to have a better offense. If Boston doesn’t attack like they do, they can’t defend like they have all year. And looking at Eric Spoelstra’s abilities, the defense may seem like the easiest point to fix.
Especially since Jimmy Butler seems to be the differential, the performance of Miami’s modern star has not been as effective. The Heat are averaging 18.3 clearances per game for Butler (versus 8.3 against the Bucks and Knicks), more than Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined, but down in points per possession. Butler went from putting up 1.16 points per attack to 1.06, with a season low of 0.76 going into Game 4 of the series. Boston shuts down Jimmy and the secondary in the middle, allowing the Celtics to attack better. Boston’s defense feeds their offensive style, while at the same time pushing the style of their offense to their defense.