Celtics stay alive with crucial Miami Game 6 on tap

BOSTON — Ahead of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about his team’s state of mind heading into Game 2 consecutive playoff.

“Just win or die,” he said.

After a dominating performance on Thursday night, the Celtics are still alive.

Boston took control early on and never looked back, shooting more than 50% from the field, forcing the Miami Heat to 16 turnovers that became 27 points and having four players finish with at least 20 points in a Wire to wire, 110-99 win in front of a raucous crowd at the sold-out TD Garden.

“We had our backs against the wall,” said Jaylen Brown, who finished with 21 points. “Obviously we never imagined being in this position, being down 3-0, but when adversity hits you see what a team is really made of.

“It couldn’t be worse than being 3-0 down, but we didn’t look around, we didn’t go in different directions. We stuck together.”

The Celtics came close to becoming the first team in NBA history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven series. In fact, of the 151 times a series has been 3- 0, the Celtics are only the 22nd team to fall behind 3-0 with a higher regular season winning percentage than their opponent. The previous two that did: Washington Capitols vs. Chicago Stags in 1947 and Orlando Magic vs. Celtics in 2010.

Now the Celtics will try to do something those teams couldn’t: win in Miami on Saturday night and bring this series back here for Game 7 on Memorial Day.

“For some weird reason, even last year we always seemed to make it a little harder for ourselves,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 21 points and dished out double-digit assists (11) for the first. times in the playoffs. “But what I do know is that you can see the true character of a person, of a team when things are not going well, and our ability to come together, to understand things when things are not going well. necessarily good for us. It’s different any team I’ve been on this year and last year, just the core group of guys who can respond.

“I think it’s just a testament to our unity, obviously how badly we want it, and we’ve got a room full of determined, tough guys pushing things, you look left and right of you, believe that the guy next to you is going to do whatever it takes and fight back if it doesn’t work out.”

In Games 4 and 5, Boston looked like the team that played so well the first seven months of the season.

After shooting 29% from 3-pointers in Games 1-3, the Celtics have gone to at least 40% in the last two, including a 16-for-39 (41%) performance on Thursday night. Boston is now 38-2 this season when reaching at least 40% of its 3-pointers; it’s 29-31 when it’s not.

Turnover figures were also key again. The Celtics forced 16 Heat turnovers in Game 4, turning them into 27 points. In Game 5, they forced…16 Heat turnovers that became 27 points.

And their score was balanced. For the first time all season (regular season or playoffs), the Celtics had four players finishing with at least 20 points – Derrick White (24), Marcus Smart (23), Tatum and Brown.

“I think we still looked great today,” White said. “[We were] able to get out and run, make that extra pass, and when you look like that with the shooters we have, we’re going to more than miss them.

“Just keep making that extra pass and find the right guy.”

Boston has been on a roller coaster of emotions for several weeks; he’s won or lost consecutively in his last 11 games, dating back to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers on May 3.

The Celtics also continued on a potentially historic path. Only three teams have forced a Game 7 after trailing 3-0: the New York Knicks against the Rochester Royals in 1991; the Denver Nuggets against the Utah Jazz in 1994; and the Portland Trail Blazers against the Dallas Mavericks in 2003.

Boston is now 48 minutes from becoming fourth.

And while the Celtics have struggled mightily at the Garden the past two years in the playoffs (11-11), they’ve been a totally different team on the road. Including their Game 4 victory, the Celtics are 13-7 on the road since the start of the 2022 playoffs and have won four straight road elimination games.

They will look to make it five with a win in Miami on Saturday.

“It’s gonna take it all,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a dogfight. I imagine these guys will play better than they did tonight, and they’re going to be aggressive.

“We have to be ready to take their hit at home. We have to be ready to be resilient and go out and do what we’re supposed to do.”


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