Celtics 3-0 comeback vs. Heat: Three reasons Boston can make NBA history in Eastern Conference Finals

The Heat demolished the Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, sending Boston into a historically insurmountable hole in the NBA Playoffs.

By now, you’ve probably seen the stat: In NBA history, 150 teams have trailed 3-0 in a playoff series but zero have come back to win the series.

With their backs against the wall, the Celtics tried to channel their inner 2004 Boston Red Sox — the first team in MLB history to overcome a 3-0 playoff series deficit.

“Don’t let us win tonight,” Marcus Smart said ahead of Game 4 in an ode to Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar’s now-historic pregame statement.

Boston backed up its talk, handling the Heat by 17 points in Game 4 and 13 points in Game 5 to force a Game 6 in Miami.

MORE: Celtics dominate Heat at home to force a Game 6

“They let us get two, so don’t let us get another one,” Jaylen Brown stated confidently following a decisive win in Game 5.

The Celtics have flipped the momentum in this series, and the pressure shifts to the Heat as they try and close out on their home floor. Has Boston found something in its two wins? Let’s take a closer look at some of its keys to victory.

Three reasons Celtics are built to overcome 3-0 deficit vs. Heat

Celtics turning up the intensity on defense

The Celtics’ success starts on the defensive end. In the 2023 NBA Playoffs, Boston is 2-8 when it allows over 110 points. It is 8-0 when it keeps its opponent under that figure.

In this postseason, the Celtics’ defense has not consistently looked anything like the defense that carried them to the NBA Finals last year or the league’s second-best defensive rating this regular season.

In Games 4 and 5, Boston got back to its roots, taking its defensive intensity to the level that got it here. The Celtics held the Heat under 100 points in both wins to get back into this series.

MORE: Down 3-0: How many teams have come back to force a Game 6, Game 7?

They’ve started to pressure Miami’s ball handlers the second they cross halfcourt, taking advantage of the Heat’s thin guard rotation. Especially with Gabe Vincent out of the lineup with an ankle injury in Game 5, Boston looked much more aggressive to jump passing lanes or stunt on drives to force inexperienced playmakers to make a decision.

In Game 4, the Celtics scored 27 points off of 15 Miami turnovers, also tallying eight blocks and eight steals. In Game 5, they upped the pressure even more, scoring 27 points off of 16 Heat turnovers while recording 13 steals and four blocks.

Their switches and defensive rotations have been in sync, with all five defenders on a string the way they were last postseason. As a result, Boston held Miami’s blistering shooters to under 10 3-pointers in back-to-back games.

As we’ve seen from this team in the past, this level of defense is sustainable — and it’s their Achilles heel if they’re going to make history.

Celtics’ ball movement against Heat’s zone defense

Coming up with stops on defense has allowed Boston to play with much more pace over its two wins, but its halfcourt offense has looked synergetic.

This Celtics team is at its best when the ball is like a hot potato zipping around the perimeter. It’s the advantage they create by having a minimum of four shooters on the floor at all times.

In Games 1-through-3, Boston looked dumbfounded by Miami’s zone as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and co. tried to dribble through traps and traffic. It felt like TNT was airing re-runs of last year’s Conference Finals and NBA Finals. The Celtics had 15 turnovers in each of the first three games of the series and didn’t create many open looks from 3.

In Games 4 and 5, the Celtics beat Miami’s zone with ball movement — both around the perimeter for 3s or within the soft spots in the paint for lobs.

In Game 4, the Celtics had 28 assists on 43 made field goals, knocking down 18 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip. In Game 5, Boston had 23 assists on 40 made field goals, knocking down 16 3-pointers at a 41 percent clip. It didn’t turn the ball over more than 10 times in either contest.

It looks like the Celtics are finally getting comfortable against the Heat’s patented zone defense and they’re dangerous when the 3-ball is falling.

Celtics are at their best under pressure

Last, but certainly not least, there’s something about this team when their backs are against a wall.

It’s something that The Sporting News’ Gilbert McGregor detailed specifically about star forward Tatum heading into Game 5 — and the rest of the team follows his lead.

Dating back to the start of the 2022 NBA Playoffs, the Celtics are 7-1 in elimination games. They have also won four-straight road elimination games — a stat that bodes well for their upcoming Game 6 in Miami.

Game 5 was Boston’s fourth win facing elimination this postseason — the most in a single playoffs in the decorated history of the Celtics’ franchise.

Now, with their season still on the line, the Celtics are just two more wins away from making NBA history as the first team to pull off the reverse sweep with a 3-0 comeback.

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