Boston isn’t new to overcoming daunting playoff deficits.
In 2013, the Bruins overcame a 4-1 deficit in a Game 7 to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2007, the Red Sox won three straight to defeat the Cleveland Guardians in the American League Championship Series. And of course, there’s the never to be forgotten New England Patriots comeback against the Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl LI.
Yet, perhaps none were as savory as when the 2004 Red Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit and eliminate the New York Yankees in the ALCS en route to their 86-year demon-exorcising World Series title. That sparked the first of four championship duck boat parades to come for the Red Sox in the next 15 years, creating a dynastic run after generations of torment and heartbreak.
Now, the Celtics are just one victory away from replicating that improbable comeback and taking one step closer to ending their 15-year title drought.
The C’s left little to no room for optimism in the 2023 Eastern Conference finals with the Miami Heat after falling into a 3-0 hole. The Celtics were humiliated in Game 3, which was reminiscent of the Red Sox dropping a 19-8 loss to the Yankees at Fenway Park in the ’04 ALCS.
As is pivotal in any deep playoff hunt, especially when overcoming an unfavorable series deficit, are the key contributors. This was the case in ’04 when Kevin Millar drew the iconic walk against Mariano Rivera, then Dave Roberts pinch-ran and stole the base, later plating the game-tying run — you know the story.
This remains the case with the Celtics.
Every title run requires a cast of role players rising to the occasion and elevating in the moments when the lights shine their brightest. So, who’s the Big Papi of the Celtics? The Jason Varitek? The vocal leader who’s uplifted the Celtics when they needed it most??
Here are four player comparisons between the 2004 Red Sox as the Celtics look to become the first of 151 teams in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series setback in the playoffs:
Jayson Tatum – David Ortiz
Pretty obvious, right?
Might as well get this one out of the way. Tatum, like Ortiz was for many years with the Red Sox, is the best player on the team. Much of the pendulum swinging depends on which version of Tatum’s shows up on any given night. When he failed to score a single shot attempt in the fourth quarter of Games 1 and 2, the Celtics flopped. But when he shows up, like in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s time to pull out the cameras and update the record books.
Jaylen Brown – Manny Ramirez
The second of two obvious comparisons.
Brown, like Ramirez, is the Robin of Tatum and Ortiz’s Batman. Without them, there’s no one-two punch. During the regular season, Brown challenged the naysayers who claimed that he can’t play alongside Tatum, notching his second All-Star nomination and All-NBA honors following the regular season — like Tatum.
When both are on, they’re arguably the best duo the league has to offer, making the Celtics the best team the league has to offer.
Derrick White – Tim Wakefield
The playoff heroes with redemption on their minds.
Before White emerged as a starting lineup reliable guard for head coach Joe Mazzulla, things were dicey. White joined the Celtics in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs last season and fell apart in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors. He couldn’t buy a basket, shooting 32.7%. Left wide-open on enough to assemble a multi-minute compilation, White didn’t rise to the occasion.
But the 2023 playoffs have been redemption time for White, similar to Wakefield back in 2003.
Wakefield allowed the game-winning home run to Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS that sent the Yankees to the World Series. A year later, right back in the same spot, Wakefield had his revenge, striking out Ruben Sierra in the 13th inning, positioning an Ortiz walk-off base hit in the 14th to send the series from 3-0 to 3-2 with the Yankees.
On Saturday night, White secured a Game 7 date for the Celtics, tipping in the game-winning basket with less than a second remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the series up at 3-3, quickly flipping the script and playing hero, like Wakefield, within a year.
Marcus Smart – Jason Varitek
The unofficial team captain, Smart is Varitek for the Celtics.
They’re both blue-collared workhorses, not afraid to get vocal or even confrontational like when Vartiek had his iconic skirmish with Alex Rodriguez in ’04. Both are capable of setting the tone while not needing to be the No. 1 and they’re both heavily leaned on for a little bit of everything. Leadership, production and effort until the very end.
Before the C’s took the floor for Game 4, Smart stepped up to deliver an optimistic message, very reminiscent of the ’04 Red Sox.
“Don’t let us get one,” Smart told reporters, according to Jay King of The Athletic.
The winner-take-all Game 7 is set for 8:30 p.m. ET at TD Garden. But before tuning in, you can watch “Faith Rewarded: The 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox,” which will be aired live on NESN starting at 6:30 p.m.