The Boston Celtics were on the brink of elimination. Now, they are on the brink of doing what no other team has done in NBA history.
A week ago, Boston’s season felt hopelessly lost after falling into a 3-0 series deficit to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. But after back-to-back double-digit wins and Derrick White coming to the rescue to lift the Celtics to a stunning Game 6 victory Saturday night at Kaseya Center, the Celtics are just one more win away from becoming the first NBA team to ever complete a comeback after being down three games in a series.
But how did the Celtics change their fortunes so quickly?
“It just takes togetherness,” Jaylen Brown told reporters as seen on NBC Sports Boston postgame coverage. “Everything was going wrong. That’s when you start to see the character of yourself. That’s when you start to see the character of your group. Doesn’t measure a man when everything is going well. Measure a team, or a group or an individual when adversity hits, and it hit us like a storm. It can’t get no worse in the playoffs than how we kind of been playing. And look at how we responded.”
The Celtics have certainly mustered a terrific response, including in Game 6 to keep their season alive. Boston blew a 10-point lead with less than four minutes remaining Saturday and trailed by a point after Jimmy Butler sank three free throws with three seconds remaining. But the Celtics thrive in adverse situations.
“They’re just resilient,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters as seen on NBC Sports Boston postgame coverage. “I’ve said it throughout the year, that’s one of the best locker rooms I’ve ever been a part of. It starts with them. They have a togetherness, they have a connectivity and at their hardest times, they stick by each other. And they’ve done that for a long time. So credit to them.”
The Celtics are the 151st team in the league’s history to fall into a 3-0 series hole. The 150 before them never won four straight after that. Only three teams in that position before the Celtics ever forced a Game 7 — none of those teams played that pivotal contest on their home court, though.
Boston will have that luxury and it feels like it has the right recipe to finish the job and venture into uncharted territory.
“Being down three games, nobody has been able to come back from that as of yet,” Brown said. “But it’s only what, four teams that have been able to force a Game 7. That just tells you the group that we have is unique, the group that we have is special and sometimes you need a little bit of luck to bring it home.”
Here are more notes from Celtics-Heat Game 6:
— According to ESPN Stats & Info, White is the second player in NBA history to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater with his team trailing and facing elimination in the playoffs. The only other player to do it was Michael Jordan with his iconic shot over Craig Elho in 1989.
— Jayson Tatum sparked the Celtics in the first half with 25 points, but he went cold from the field over the final 24 minutes. He made just one of his nine shots in the second half and finished 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. He was aided by a 15-for-15 showing at the free-throw line and still ended up with a game-high 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds and five assists.
— Even though Tatum struggled in the second half, Miami’s star duo of Butler and Bam Adebayo weren’t much better. Butler atoned for his underwhelming performance with those clutch free throws, but the two combined to shoot a putrid 9-for-37 (24.3%) from the floor.
— It was a role reversal in styles. The Celtics struggled to find their shot from distance, hitting just 7-of-35 3-point attempts while the Heat knocked down 14-of-30 triples. But Heat guard Duncan Robinson missed two wide-open 3-point attempts in the final 90 seconds of the game, which might haunt the Heat for some time.
— The Celtics haven’t had to win many close games since dispatching the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. In fact, this was just Boston’s second single-digit win over its last two series and its first playoff win decided by one possession.
— With Malcolm Brogdon sidelined due to a right forearm strain, Mazzulla shortened his rotation to seven players, but did give two minutes to Sam Hauser over Payton Pritchard in the second quarter. Hauser didn’t attempt a shot in his brief time on the floor.
— The Celtics and Heat now travel back to Boston for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.