Brian WindhorstSenior writer for ESPN6 minutes to read
boston – after losing for the first time in In the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night, Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler was asked if he was concerned that the Boston Celtics were gaining momentum.
“No,” Butler said in an unconventional way. “If anything, it will build momentum for us knowing we have to play with more energy. We have to play like our backs to the wall.”
On the face of it, this sounds like an unusual response: How can a losing team feel momentum? How can a 3-1 team in this series go up against a wall?
Perhaps Butler, a wise veteran who thrives on playing mind games, actually has that right. If so, he might be the only one.
This matchup between the Celtics and Heat, a series in which the No. 8 seed held a 3-0 lead, became the Pesaro Conference Finals.
What should be true is not.
What seemed logical suddenly no longer made sense.
And just when you think you might have things resolved, you flip on your head.
When the Celtics won Game Four 116-99 on Tuesday, it was the fourth time in the past two seasons that they had won a road game while facing elimination. This is an amazing feat that speaks of flexibility and balance under pressure. It’s also incredibly uncommon.
For example, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, who has played more playoff games than anyone else in NBA history, has four such victories in his 20-year career – two of which occurred in the 2010 Magical NBA Finals. 2016.
said Joe Mazzola, who coached the Celtics to two of those victories (Game 6 at the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round and Tuesday’s Mile in Miami). “It’s always been there, and I think the understanding perspective was only a week ago, and so it’s fragile during these times.”
Oh, it’s fragile. The same team that survived a two-game do-or-die game against the Sixers in the Conference Semifinals immediately blew double-digit leads at home in Games 1 and 2 against the Heat.
The Celtics are 10-11 at home the past two seasons, which is the biggest home loss for a team in two years. It’s nearly impossible to win enough playoff games to play 21 home games over two years and be under . 500 at home in the same amount of time—unless you’re a Celtics bunch, who often look bad when they should be good and great when they should be cooked.
Home teams that lost Game 1 of a series in Game 2 won 17 straight times—until Boston fell to Miami in Game 2 of that series.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was 13-0 in his career when he led his team in close quarters at home in Miami — until the Celtics beat him in Game 7 of last year’s Conference Finals and in Game 4 of the season. Once again, plans to celebrate the cup were cancelled.
“You know, sometimes things don’t go as planned,” Spoelstra said Tuesday night.
Nothing in this series has ever gone as planned.
The Heat tallied eight wins this postseason as a Las Vegas underdog—the second-most ever in a single postseason. Computer prediction models have been equally baffling. ESPN’s Basketball Strength Index gave the Celtics a 95% chance of winning the series. Even after the Celtics fell 2-0, they remained the computer favorites. It finally reversed before Game 4 – only to see the Celtics win convincingly.
“As we know and everyone knows, we don’t end things the easy way here,” Heat offensively said. Caleb Martin, in short. His team lost at home to the Atlanta Hawks in first game play in April before winning last place in the Eastern Conference playoffs in Raleigh in the final three minutes of a game against the Chicago Bulls.
Sometimes the Celtics play more comfortably when they’re trailing than they are leading. This has been a recurring scenario over the past two seasons. In Game 4 on Tuesday, they fell by nine points midway through the third quarter and stormed back to an 18-0 lead to save their season.
After not getting a field goal in the fourth quarter in the first three games of the series, Celtics star Jason Tatum sank five in the fourth Game 4 to hold the Heat.
Just two weeks ago, Tatum was sitting on a 1-out-14 shooting night and was on the brink of a humiliating elimination — then he made four three-pointers in the final five minutes to secure another improbable, save of the season. Wins.
This exercise can go on and on. These two teams with these players in this circumstance create a large Venn diagram of strange events.
So, it has to be asked, what about the 150-0 all-time record for teams in the series when they’re up 3-0?
“We’ll be fine,” Butler said. “Let’s get back to doing what we’ve always done to get us to this point: continually believing in each other, knowing we’ll win, and we will.”
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