NBA Finals berth at stake as Heat, Celtics prepare for Game 7
Boston — Moments after Boston's dramatic win at Miami on Saturday night, Jaylen Brown began thinking about the future. He raised his hands, put up seven fingers and began yelling, "Game 7! Game 7!"
Game 7, indeed.
Brown and Boston are on the brink of history after Derrick White's buzzer-beating putback lifted the Celtics to a 104-103 victory over the Heat in Game 6. One of the league's most storied franchises is trying to become the first team in NBA playoffs history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
Next up is one more game in the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night in Boston. And it looks as if the back-and-forth series could be on its way to an epic conclusion.
The Celtics are the fourth NBA team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series and force a deciding game. The previous three teams — the 1951 New York Knicks in the NBA Finals, the 1994 Denver Nuggets in the second round and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers in the first round — lost Game 7, all on the road.
"We've got another chance, another opportunity," said Jayson Tatum, who had 31 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Game 6 to join Larry Bird as the only other Celtic with double-digit playoff games with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. "It's far from over. Still an uphill battle. But it always feels good to give yourself another chance, another opportunity."
Boston is looking to extend a wild postseason ride that already includes five wins when facing elimination — twice in the East semifinals after falling behind 3-2 to the 76ers, and now three straight times against the Heat.
The Celtics are 27-9 in Game 7s and have won their last four — including a 112-88 win against Philadelphia in the previous round that featured Tatum breaking out for 51 points, the most in a Game 7 in NBA history. Boston also beat the Heat in Game 7 in Miami in last year's East finals when Jimmy Butler missed what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer with about 17 seconds left.
The Heat are 6-5 all-time in Game 7s, losing their last two. Miami is 0-2 when facing such a game on the road.
The winner of Sunday's matchup will advance to face the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.
Despite being denied a finals berth in three straight games, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his message to the team after Saturday's loss was just to focus on the next game. Let the past be the past.
"Let's just rally around each other," Spoelstra said. "These are emotional games and things can swing in that Game 7. The pressure can go back and forth in Game 7s quite a bit. We're not going anywhere."
But what may be most concerning for the Heat heading into Monday is the Celtics — typically reliant on their ability to make 3-point shots — were able to pull out Saturday's win despite making a playoff-low 7 of 35 attempts from deep.
In addition, until Butler's incredible flurry of 10 points in just over two minutes to put the Heat in front, he was mostly a non-factor on a night in which he went just 5 of 21 from the field. Over the past three games Butler has shot a combined 19 of 55.
He said it hasn't shaken his resolve to do what he can to prevent what would be a disappointing finish for Miami.
"You're going to get the same test until you pass it, I swear," Butler said. "We were in this same position last year. We can do it. I know that we will do it. We've got to go on the road and win in a very, very, very tough environment."
That environment just happens to be the city that is home to the first — and still only — team in Major League Baseball history to pull off a 3-0 series comeback.
That squad, the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox, rallied from that hole in the American League Championship Series against the rival New York Yankees.
David Ortiz, the 2004 ALCS MVP, said it makes sense that the Celtics are in position to pull off what has previously been unthinkable.
"Yeah, and there'd be no better time than this one for that happen," Ortiz said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If you do it in basketball, it's got to be the same city."
The Celtics are just 5-5 at home during these playoffs, but there is no place there would rather be with their season on the line.
"It's going to be huge. The best two words in sports is 'Game 7,'" Brown said. "And our home crowd, I know they're going to bring the energy. So, I'm excited."
There was no word on the status of Boston guard Malcolm Brogdon for Game 7. The NBA Sixth Man of the Year missed Saturday night's win with a right forearm strain.
Boston's reserves were outscored 22-11 in Brogdon's absence. Robert Williams III went to the locker room late in the second quarter with a left wrist injury, but he returned in the second half and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes on the night.
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