Celtics Enter Game 7 After Answering Major Question In Thrilling Win

Boston's defense helped overcome a 20% clip from long range

Joe Mazzulla knew it was a question the Boston Celtics would have to answer.

“That was always the question: What happens when we don’t shoot the ball well?” Mazzulla told reporters Saturday night after the Celtics shot 20% from long range in a 104-103 victory over the Miami Heat during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, per ASAP Sports.

Jayson Tatum (0-for-8) and Jaylen Brown (0-for-4) combined to miss a dozen shots from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart (4-for-11) and Game 6 hero Derrick White (3-for-7) combined to hit all seven of Boston’s treys while everyone else — Al Horford (0-for-2), Grant Williams (0-for-3), Tatum and Brown — went 0-for-17.

Zero for 17!

The 2022-23 Celtics didn’t often win in those circumstances. In fact, NBA teams that shot 45% or better from 3-point range like the Heat did on Saturday previously were 89-0 when their opponent shot less than 25% on at least 30 attempts. (Read: Nobody won in those circumstances.)

But the Celtics did just that. And in doing so, they answered the question.

They’ve bought back into their defensive intensity, which Mazzulla said the group lost after Game 3. It’s helped them claim three straight wins. They’re only the fourth team ever to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the series. No team has ever won the series after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven.

“Defense,” Tatum responded when asked how Boston won the game that resembles so many of its losses, per ASAP Sports, before an incredibly telling moment. “I think — damn, we only made seven threes?

“Yeah, it was defense that kept us in the game, that allowed us to stay in the game. We’ve kind of changed that around to win these last three games, and our defensive identity has been the reason why.”

Boston forced Miami to shoot 35.5% from the field with eight blocked shots and four steals. Despite having seven more turnovers than the Heat, the C’s still held an 11-6 edge in points off turnovers.

The Celtics turned in impressive defensive performances in Games 4 and 5, too. In those games, their defense led to offense in transition and better looks in the half-court. But they also shot 40% and 41% from long range in those games. The two aspects complemented each other. In a series-extending Game 6, one was tasked with overshadowing the other.

And it did so successfully.

“Bricks,” Mazzulla said in reference to Boston’s offensive possessions in the final four minutes. “They went zone, slowed us down a little bit. We got some really good looks. Just didn’t make them.”

But the team that showcased an offense-first mindset the majority of the season proved it still has less-used-but-still-incredibly-effective club in the bag.

They’re one win away from the NBA Finals because of it.