Drawing up a 3-1 Celtics comeback vs. Miami
This wasn’t exactly how Celtics fans would’ve drawn up the Eastern Conference Finals after winning a seven-game grind against the defending champion Raptors. Up against a less-talented Heat team and with Gordon Hayward’s return on the horizon, a trip to the NBA Finals seemed imminent.
But this is the year 2020, where the expected is rarely the reality. The Heat have gotten incredible production out of Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Jae Crowder while their two All-Stars have been as good as advertised — and in the clutch, maybe even more so — leaving the Heat with a 3-1 series lead entering Game 5 on Friday.
Only 13 teams in NBA playoff history have come back to win a series after trailing 3-1, two coming from the Nuggets inside the bubble. It’s possible, and if the expectation is for the Heat to win the series, maybe 2020 can rear it’s six heads again, but this time in favor of Boston. But for a Celtics comeback to occur, a few things need to happen.
Attack the paint
One of the major storylines all series has been the Heat’s zone giving the Celtics’ talented wing creators fits. It helped Miami claim the first two games of the series until Brad Stevens’ club pretty much busted it up in Game 3 for a relatively easy victory.
The Celtics did that by attacking the paint with force. They scored 60 points in the paint and found wide-open shooters beyond the arc to force Miami back into a man-to-man defense. In Game 4 however, we only saw the Celtics attack the paint for spurts, rather than a consistent effort throughout the game. They settled for semi-contested threes above the break and when they weren’t falling, Miami started to build a lead.
The only significant period of time they busted Miami’s zone led to an 85-84 lead in the fourth quarter. That was, until, the Celtics lathered their hands with grease and turned the ball over more times than Evan Turner on his worst day.
Not just limit turnovers, but maybe try not to commit all of them in crunch time of the fourth quarter. The Celtics have made a habit in this series of outplaying the Heat for a majority of games and then coughing the ball up like crazy down the stretch.
Credit the Heat’s active defenders for some of these, as Jimmy Butler has made a ton of incredible plays down the stretch to get the Heat extra possessions. But this has been a problem for the Celtics all season long, both pre-and-post coronavirus shutdown.
Maybe it’s a focus thing, maybe it’s a product of inexperience from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but you’d think with five very capable offensive players you’d be able to get some damn ball security in the most important moments of games.
This one’s plain and simple: Limit turnovers or pack your bags. We’ll see you in January.
Play with more force defensively
This one has been a little hard for the Celtics to accomplish without getting themselves into foul trouble — looking at you Tony Brothers — but Boston’s defenders need to make Dragic and most notably, Herro, feel their presence while they’re handling the ball.
Too often did both players come off ball screens and into their drives with confidence and little resistance. These aren’t guards who are going to get swallowed by length like Fred VanVleet. They’re going to test you continuously and when you don’t make them uncomfortable, you get nights like Wednesday where a rookie puts 37 on your head.
So the Celtics need more ball pressure on the perimeter. It’ll make those Herro pull-ups feel less like inevitable death and more like a good defensive possession while making those pick and roll feeds to Bam Adebayo a little less clean.
Just get to Sunday
Brad Stevens said it best following the brutal loss in Game 4.
“We don’t have to win three games on Friday,” Stevens said after Game 4. “We have to win one. That’s going to be our focus, that’s going to be our attention, and we’ll get after it.”
A full-on Celtics comeback won’t happen in one game. It’ll have to build over the next five days, creeping more doubt into the heads of the Miami players and coaches.
The important thing is to just get this series to Sunday. Get it to Game 6 and see how the Heat react. Get it to Game 6 and see if you can’t apply some serious pressure.
In Game 7, anything can happen. Grant Williams could miss two clutch free throws but then make a game-winning block on a guard in the closing seconds. Oh wait, that already happened.
Just extend the series one more game. The great thing about comebacks like these is that there is no tomorrow. All the pressure is on the Heat to put the Celtics to bed before the series gets interesting again.