Celtics aim for the impossible as Heat sit on brink of Finals

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI -- Blown out in Game 3, facing elimination in Game 4, tasked with engineering the sort of comeback that no team in their league has ever pulled off before.

This may sound familiar to Boston fans.

Yes, what the Red Sox did to the New York Yankees in 2004 was discussed around the Boston Celtics on Monday. A day after a debacle in Miami to fall into a 3-0 deficit in these NBA Eastern Conference finals -- "embarrassing," Boston forward Jaylen Brown said -- the Celtics will try to extend the series and at least delay a Heat celebration in Game 4 tonight.

"We still believe we're the better team," Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon said Monday. "We have not played like it in any of the three games. But, you know, there is always a first."

No NBA team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series; it's happened only once in Major League Baseball, when the Red Sox shook off a 19-8 drubbing in Game 3 to win four straight and top the Yankees in that 2004 American League Championship Series.

Of course, there had never been a No. 8 seed that won an NBA playoff game by 26 points, either -- until Miami rolled its way to a 128-102 cakewalk in Game 3. It led to All-Star Game MVP Jayson Tatum saying Boston needs to show some pride, veteran big man Al Horford calling upon the Celtics to stay together and first-year Coach Joe Mazzulla taking the blame as speculation about his future only gets louder and louder.

"We didn't play well at all," Tatum said. "Obviously, by the score, it showed."

Meanwhile, a Heat win tonight would send Miami to the NBA Finals for the seventh time since 2006 -- and give the team more than a week to rest before the title series opens on June 1.

"We can expect just a great competitive game," Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Boston has great pride. They'll bring it. And you want to embrace it. You don't want to get ahead of yourself and think about anything else other than embracing the competition. This is what you want. You want to be in the Eastern Conference finals in a really competitive game with a chance to finish and close out."

Thing is, that was also the thinking going into Game 3. After dropping the first two games at home, conventional wisdom would suggest that Boston would have arrived Sunday night loaded up for their best effort.

It wasn't even close.

Boston trailed by as many as 33 points in Game 3 -- the second-biggest deficit the Celtics faced this season. They trailed Oklahoma City by 37 on Jan. 3, a game where the Thunder scored 88 points in the middle two quarters on the way to a 150-117 romp. The Celtics responded from that defeat by winning their next nine games.

"Faith is the most important thing in the world," Mazzulla said.

The Heat would say the same. They're trying to join the 1999 New York Knicks as the only No. 8 seeds to reach the NBA Finals, and they're doing so after nearly missing the playoffs altogether.

They know the chance they have Tuesday. They watched Boston celebrate in front of Heat fans last year in Game 7 of the East finals. They have an opportunity to make the Celtics watch them celebrate winning the East this time around.

"We have a great opportunity ahead of us," Heat center Bam Adebayo said.

The Heat are up 3-0 in a series for the 10th time, including one sweep of a best-of-five in 2000. In the eight previous best-of-seven instances where Miami has led 3-0, the Heat have gone 5-3 in Game 4 and never been extended past Game 5.

Boston is down 0-3 in a series for the eighth time, including one best-of-five sweep defeat. The Celtics forced one of those best-of-seven deficits to six games, one to five games and got swept on the other four occasions.

  photo  Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent (2) drives to the basket during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
 
 
  photo  Miami Heat center Cody Zeller (44) looks to pass the ball as Boston Celtics center Luke Kornet (40) defends during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  A fan hold up a sign during the second half during Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dunks the ball over Miami Heat guard Max Strus (31) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
 
 
  photo  Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin (16) reacts during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) reacts guard Gabe Vincent (2) three-point shot during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) dunks the ball over Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams (12) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) and forward Jimmy Butler (22) defend Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams (12) talks to head coach Joe Mazzulla during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
 
 

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