Breaking: Celtics show ‘poise’ facing elimination, extend series vs. Heat

MIAMI Celtics show — Before Tuesday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Marcus Smart addressed the Miami Heat at shootaround.

“Don’t let us get one,” Smart said. “Just don’t let us get one.”

It was quite a statement to make, given that the Celtics show entered Game 4 in a 3-0 hole in this best-of-seven series — a deficit that 150 teams have faced over the course of NBA history and not one of them has successfully recovered from.

But, a few hours later, Smart and the Celtics show followed through on their part of the bargain, claiming a 116-99 victory over Miami, sending this series back to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday with the Celtics now three more victories away from history.

“Now we’ve just got to go win another one,” Smart said after finishing with 11 points and six assists in 35 minutes. “That’s all that matters. We take it one game at a time. We understand the odds are stacked against us, but we’re a team that believes in us no matter what, and we’ve just got to keep going, and all that matters is the next game.”

Boston found itself in a 3-0 hole coming into Game 4 because it repeatedly failed to survive adverse situations. The Celtics collapsed down the stretch in Games 1 and 2, then were blown out of Kaseya Center in Game 3.

However, things changed drastically in Game 4. After a 3-pointer by Caleb Martin, Boston found itself down by nine points late in the first quarter. After Max Strus hit a 3-pointer 90 seconds into the second half, the Celtics were down by nine points once again. Coach Joe Mazzulla called a quick timeout with 2:19 left in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 88-83 after the Celtics missed their first four shots and committed three fouls.

The Celtics, however, responded effectively every time. After Martin’s triple, they went on a 17-5 run to start the second quarter and take the lead. After Strus’s three-pointer, Boston went on an 18-0 run that lasted over four minutes of the third quarter. And after Mazzulla called timeout early in the fourth, Boston scored on the ensuing possession, with a basket from Jayson Tatum (his first fourth-quarter field goal of the series) to start a 12-0 run that ultimately sealed the deal.

“I think just that poise, the trust in each other, the connectivity I think just throughout a game regardless of how the game was going, that stuff never waned,” Mazzulla said. “Listen, when the stakes are really high and you’re trying to achieve what we are trying to achieve, it’s easy to lose those things because the guys are playing as hard as they can.

“I just thought regardless of the result, the guys just stuck together.”

Part of the reason Boston was able to stick together, according to Jaylen Brown, was from conversations the team had as a group together during the day Monday in the wake of a demoralizing blowout loss in Game 3 to send the Celtics to the verge of elimination.

“Just coming together, talking it out,” Brown said. “And like a lot of times when you get to this point down 3-0, you see locker rooms and teams start to go in the other direction. We want to make sure that we stayed together. We wanted to make sure that we looked each other in the eye and came out today and put our best foot forward, and I’m proud of our group for doing that because you see teams with their back against the wall and you see they just collapse.

“You didn’t see that tonight. You seen us come together, play defense, make the right plays, and I feel like that shows a lot about our character, especially in a game where everything is on the line and everything has went wrong in the last couple of games.”.

It also didn’t hurt that the Celtics — and specifically Tatum — knocked down some shots. Boston had come into this game shooting 31-for-106 (29.2%) from 3-point range over the first three games, compared with 44-for-92 (47.8%) for Miami.

“I still think we can shoot the ball a lot better,” said Brown, who had 16 points despite again struggling from deep, going 1-for-5 from behind the arc. “I think I had some good shots that didn’t go in, but tomorrow, next game is a new game. I feel like as we continue to build confidence, if we keep seeing the ball go through the net, I think we’re going to feel good about ourselves.”

However, Tatum improved dramatically in the second half, shooting 11 of 15 from the field for 25 points and only turning the ball over once after starting the game with 8 points and 4 turnovers.

In the third quarter, the Celtics outscored the Heat 38-23, led by 14 points thanks to Tatum’s performance. They had trailed by six at halftime. Then, after a timeout at the beginning of the fourth quarter, he came back into the game and scored the decisive basket for Boston.

The Heat held the Celtics scoreless for over two minutes in the fourth quarter while Tatum sat on the bench. Tatum explained that “they were playing zone,” and that the team had “kind of struggled against the zone” in the first couple of games. “So, it basically rendered us immobile. My return found him simply sketching a play designed to “get some movement, finding open space, and then make the right play.”

Now that the series has returned to Boston, the Celtics have a chance to make history.

On Thursday in Boston, there will be another one that takes exactly 48 minutes.

Brown stated, “We want to come back to Miami.”

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