Will the Boston Celtics actually pull this off?
Will they show they finally have gotten their act together? Will they prove they can stay consistent? Will they finally live up to their potential?
Will the Celtics actually become the first NBA team to overcome a 0-3 playoff series deficit? The question would have only elicited laughs and snarky comments earlier this week. But after dominating the Miami Heat with a 110-97 win on Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, that question now actually deserves serious consideration.
Raucous Celtics fans cheered as if it’s possible. The passionate Celtics players competed as if they thought so, too. And though they maintain they can fend off the latest challenge as they have all season long, the Heat should fear the outcome as well.
The Celtics are no longer wilting in crunch time as they did in Games 1 and 2. They are no longer failing to show up ready to play as they did in Game 3.
Jayson Tatum has thrived, especially in crunch time. Jaylen Brown has finally shot more consistently. The Celtics’ role players have become more dependable. Boston coach Joe Mazzulla has improved his coaching chops with motivating his players better, using timeouts earlier and mixing his rotations more effectively.
The Heat are still competing. But Jimmy Butler didn’t take over Game 4 (10 points) and 5 (16 points) as he did in Game 1 (25 points). Miami sorely missed guard Gabe Vincent, who sat in Game 5 with a sprained left ankle. And they have gone cold from deep in Game 5 (39.1%) and Game 4 (25%) after sizzling in Game 3 (54.3%).
Related: Game 6 is a must win over the Miami Heat over the Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics attempting to make history
It still seems like Miami should closeout this series in Game 6 to appear in their second NBA Finals in four seasons. Zero out of 150 NBA teams have ever won a Game 7 after losing the first the games. Only three other teams have forced a Game 7 only to lose the decisive game, anyway. But this isn’t just about noting how historically difficult this task has become. This is about the Heat’s identity.
Miami will play in front of its own energetic fanbase. Butler thrives most when facing a challenge. And Vincent is expected to return to become the team’s third-best player once again.
Besides, the Heat stayed resilient all season. They absorbed various injuries to their key players, most notably with Butler. They upset the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. They slogged through a grind-out fest against the fifth-seeded Knicks in the second round. They exposed the Celtics lack of consistency with their effort, team chemistry and coaching experience.
But don’t be surprised if Boston pulls this off. The Celtics became the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference for a reason. On paper, they had the most talent. In reality, they often played down to their competition and only rose the occasion if they felt threatened. This time, though, the Celtics know they can’t afford to go through the motions.
Should Boston make history, though, the franchise doesn’t deserve the same praise as say, when the Red Sox beat the New York Yankees after trailing 0-3 in the 2004 American League Division Series. Then, the Red Sox were still trying to beat that dreaded curse after trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees (1920) only two years after winning their last World Series (1918). Currently, the Celtics are only a season removed from appearing in the NBA Finals.
Therefore, the Boston Celtics aren’t exactly an overachieving team overcoming insurmountable odds. This is about a team that has finally played up to its potential. Miami, on the other hand, has proven capable of becoming only the second eighth seed in league history to appear in the NBA Finals.
All of which should make Game 6 compelling. After experiencing an unpredictable series in which usually only one team has shown up, Miami and Boston will surely show up on Saturday hoping to prove they are ready to seize the moment.
Mark Medina is an NBA Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.