5 takeaways from the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Heat

5 takeaways from the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Heat

Jayson Tatum’s great second half helps Boston avoid elimination and force Game 4.

MIAMI – For one night, the Boston Celtics said no to becoming No. 151.

It’s not a rallying cry with much rhythm or magic – don’t expect to see this splashed onto t-shirts laid out at every seat in the TD Garden for Thursday’s Game 5 (8:30 a.m. ET, TNT) — but not becoming the latest victim of the NBA playoff sweep was as good as anything the Celtics had on Tuesday. As of now, the number of teams in league history that have lost a best-of-seven series after going 3-0 down remains frozen at 150.

Nobody ever came back, but with their 116-99 victory at Kaseya Center, the Celtics still have a chance.

“We want to come back to Miami,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. “If that happens, I feel like we’ll feel good about ourselves.”

Boston’s goals have become smaller, his vision narrower given his predicament. “Unfinished?” That theme for the 2022-23 season of returning to the Finals and this time winning the Championship was brought back to just, you know, winning a game at home in the Eastern Finals.

Yet, as someone once bellowed on the Boston basketball court a few years ago, anything is possible. In the meantime, here are five takeaways from a game that, for a while longer, has kept the Denver Nuggets’ dance card open for next week’s Finals.

1. The Celtics almost waited too long

Down 3-0 in the series and down nine points early in the third quarter, Boston faced a challenge now or never. Miami had chased them like so many flies a few times in the first half and, at 61-52, looked set to start the playoff.

That’s when Jayson Tatum hit a pair of 3-pointers, Derrick White hit another on a timeout, and the Celtics went on. They scored 18 straight to turn that nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead. Defensively, they stiffened up, draining some life from the Heat and a lot of fun from the building. They moved the ball and, through it, moved the needle, never dragging again.

For the first time in this series, they looked like the team that won 57 regular season games to win the No. 2 seed in the East, the team that overtook Atlanta and Philadelphia to become favorites in the final up to three consecutive collapses.

Word was that the Celtics had a team reunited at a nearby Top Golf after their Monday movie night. It was time better spent than making summer vacation plans.

“You just have to come together, talk about it,” Brown said, “and like so often when you get to that point at 3-0, you see the locker room and the teams start going the other way. We want to make sure we stick together. We wanted to make sure we looked each other in the eye and went out today and did our best.

“I’m proud of our group for doing this because you see teams with their backs to the wall and you see them falling apart. You didn’t see that tonight.

2. Appeal times: A+

One hundred and one games in a season/playoffs might seem a tad late to hand over marks to a coach for something as simple as calling his timeouts wisely. But given Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla’s battle with this seemingly basic sideline tactic, it’s worth noting how well he did in this one.

Mazzulla – the former assistant who slipped on a chair when Ime Udoka was suspended and eventually fired for violating team policy with an inappropriate office relationship – had been slow on the timeout trigger since the beginning. His preference for letting his players find their way out of jams was reminiscent of the great Phil Jackson’s patience with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and later Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. But these Celtics are younger and less accomplished than these NBA legends, and the strategy seemed to fail as often as it worked, throughout the first 18 games of the playoffs.

Twice in Game 4, however, Mazzulla had time for a break. In the third quarter, he used one to bail Brown out of a pressure situation. In the fourth, he brought Tatum back on the field after a few ugly opening minutes as Miami slipped 88-83.

The former saved a possession and got the Celtics up on defense. The second got them moving offensively again. Together, they demonstrated good things that can come out of the caucuses, which have too often been conspicuous by their absences.

“I just wanted to make sure we had a good chance,” Mazzulla said of the third quarter timeout. “I felt like the possessions before that weren’t going well defensively. I wanted to reset a bit.

Tatum said of the break at the start of the fourth: “They were playing in the zone, and frankly we kind of struggled with the zone the first few games. So that made us stagnate. When I came back he just drew play to get some movement, find free space and then make the right play. I kicked the ball and he went in.

Simple stuff, but what happens on the sideline can make such a difference in what happens between the lines.

Bad shots and turnovers doom the Heat in Game 4.

3. Another visit to Boston before booking Denver

Wherever Heat coach Erik Spoelstra looked, he could find trouble. Boston came out of transition better than it had before in the series, with 18 quick break points to Miami’s 10. The Celtics had more possessions thanks to fewer turnovers. And after the Boston shooters collectively made just 29% of their 3-pointers through the first three games, this time they broke through. The Celtics hit 18 of their 45 3-pointers (40%) with five players making three or more. Miami took 32, but only made eight.

Overall, the Heat coach lamented the lack of juice in his team’s offense.

“I played a little slower,” Spoelstra said. “And yeah, there wasn’t a lot of flow to attack, and then they took advantage of it. Going out in transition, which they tried to do. Speed ​​that thing up a bit, then they drop a couple 3 seconds .

That was in the third quarter, after which Boston became more assertive and generally more familiar with faces looking in the mirror. Miami tried but couldn’t derail the visitors or fully find its own rhythm. By being outclassed by 15 points in the third quarter, he missed 14 of his 22 shots. The fourth was worse, missing 12 of 18. Perhaps the rarefied air of holding that 3-0 lead threw the South Florida team into embracing the underdog role.

“All year,” Jimmy Butler said, “we’ve been better when we’ve had to do it the hard way.”

It just got a little harder.

4. The Celtics’ “others” are winning this battle

Miami’s supporting cast got a lot of attention on this series, due to their productivity and stories. Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson all went undrafted, all ended up on the Heat’s roster and all four played vital roles in the first three games. Their combined score: 61.3 points per game.

But it was Boston’s secondary stars and role players who were able to shine on Tuesday. Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Derrick White and Grant Williams combined for 53 points to Miami’s 44, providing just enough support for Tatum (33) and Brown (17). Williams’ contribution — 14 points in 29 minutes — was another sort of marker considering Mazzulla’s spotty use on multiple occasions throughout the playoffs.

“His professionalism is underrated,” Smart said. “We talk about Grant a lot, but we love Grant and we love everything he brings to this team.”

Williams, who was so heartbroken for “pushing the bear” with the Game 2 lead showdown with Butler, did the bear well in the fourth quarter. Butler tried to throw a shot from the right baseline and Williams crushed him the instant he left his hands.

Still trailing 3-1, can the Celtics build on their huge Game 4 win and continue to keep their season alive?

5. Force Play 5: Pride or Hope?

The Celtics had spoken tough in the shootout on Tuesday morning. “Don’t let us take one,” Smart had said. “Don’t let us win tonight,” was Brown’s variation. At the time, it seemed more like a pep talk for themselves, a bravado to motivate themselves rather than intimidate Miami.

The question now is, did the Celtics just save face with their performance on Tuesday or did they find answers? The Heat have no reason – yet – to be nervous and they watched it, with Butler and others smiling and chatting as the final moments ticked away. The Celtics are at least one more win away from putting pressure on the Heat.

And the story is not reassuring: of all the teams that started a series at 3-0, 44 (29.3%) managed to force a fifth game. But only 11 (7.3%) made it to a Game 6 and only three (0.2%) were able to even their streak before being knocked out anyway.

However, Boston can play one more, at least, on its floor. He can try, earlier this time, to replicate what he achieved in the semi-finals against the Sixers – fending off elimination on the road and then winning decisively at home.

And if all goes well enough for the Celtics, they can plant a seed in the minds of Heat players to become perhaps, perhaps, the first team to take a 3-0 series lead. An all-time mark of 1-150 would look and feel significantly different for these two crews.

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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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