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Miami Heat (3-3) at Boston Celtics (3-3) ECF Game #7 5/29/23

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After the Celtics’ miracle win with 0.1 second left in Game 6, the series now moves back to Boston for a winner take all Game 7. The Heat won the first 3 games setting up the narrative that no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. But then the Celtics won Game 4 116-99 in Miami to make it 3-1. The Celtics then won Game 5 110-97 in Boston to make it a 3-2 series. Finally, the Celtics won Game 6 in Miami 104-103 to tie the series 3-3. It is now Game 7 in win or go home for both teams.

Of the 150 teams that have found themselves down 0-3, no team has come back to win the series. Of those 150 teams, only 3 teams have even been able to force a Game 7. The 1951 New York Knicks were down 0-3 in the Finals and lost Game 7. In 1994, the Denver Nuggets found themselves down0-3 in the Conference Semifinals. They forced a Game 7 but lost. Finally, the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers were down 0-3 in the first round and lost after forcing a Game 7. In each of these series, it was the lower seed that lost Game 7 to the higher seeded team.

There is a Boston precedent of coming back from an 0-3 deficit, although not the Celtics. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox faced the rival New York Yankees in the ALCS. They lost the first 3 games in the series and were trailing in the ninth inning of the fourth game. They came back to win the final 4 games of that series and then went on to sweep the St Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win the title. Along with this Red Sox team, 4 hockey teams have recovered from being down 0-3 in the playoffs to win the series. But, no NBA team has ever accomplished this feat. Johnny Damon of that Red Sox team was courtside at Game 6 on Saturday.

The Celtics are 5-0 when facing elimination in this year’s playoffs. They are 27-9 in Game 7’s and they have won their last 4 Game 7’s. This includes Game 7 at Miami in last year’s ECF and Game 7 against Philadelphia in this year’s playoffs. They are 22-5 at home in Game 7’s. They are 1-1 all time against the Heat, winning Game 7 last year and losing in 2012 ECF. The Heat are 6-5 all time in Game 7 and have lost the last 2, including last year to the Celtics and in 2016 against Toronto. They are 0-2 in Game 7’s played on the road.

Malcolm Brogdon was originally listed as questionable for this game after missing Game 6. He was cleared to play in Thursday’s Game 5 but struggled with zero points (0-2 FG, 0-2 3Pt). He left Game 5 after playing just 8 minutes and did not return. Brogdon participated in the shootaround before Game 6, but was ruled out for the game. He is now expected to play in this game. If he does play, he may be limited once again. Danilo Gallinari remains out as he continues to rehab a torn ACL.

Gabe Vincent missed Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the second half of Game 4. He was able to finish Game 4 but was ruled out for Game 5. He was questionable before Game 6 but played 41 minutes and finished with 15 points (6-18 FG, 3-6 3Pt), four rebounds and one block. He is listed as questionable for this game but I expect him to once again play. Victor Oladipo is out for the season after having patellar tendon surgery in his left knee. Tyler Herro also remains out after breaking the middle and ring fingers on his right hand in the first round series against Milwaukee.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford

Celtics Reserves
Grant Williams
Sam Hauser
Payton Pritchard
Luke Kornet
Blake Griffin
Mike Muscala
Robert Williams III
Malcolm Brogdon

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Out/Injuries
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Malcolm Brogdon (forearm) probable

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Heat Starters

PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Caleb Martin
C: Bam Adebayo

Heat Reserves
Udonis Haslem
Haywood Highsmith
Nikola Jovic
Kyle Lowry
Kevin Love
Duncan Robinson
Cody Zeller

2 Way Players
Jamal Cain
Dru Smith

Injuries
Tyler Herro (hand) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Gabe Vincent (ankle) questionable

Head Coach
Erik Spoelstra

Key Matchups

Jaylen Brown vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is the key to Miami’s success. He struggled in Game 3, finishing with just 14 points while shooting 33% from the field and hitting just 1 of 7 three pointers but with little defense from the Celtics, the role players stepped up and they got the win. Butler finished Game 4 with 29 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block but he shot just 42.9% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc. He once again struggled in Game 5 with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals but he only took 10 shots. He struggled for much of Game 6 with just 9 first half points. He finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 1 steal and took over down the stretch as the Heat almost stole the game. He shot just 23.8% from the field and 2-4 from three. He will likely be aggressive and looking to take over this game and the Celtics have to be ready for it. Jaylen Brown struggled from beyond the arc in Game 6 and the Celtics will need more from him in this game.

Al Horford vs Bam Adebayo
After playing very well in Games 1 and 2, Adebayo had a very quiet Game 3, finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He also had a quiet Game 4 with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal. He shot 57.1% from the field. He finished Game 5 with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. He shot 53.3% from the field and did not attempt a 3 point shot. In Game 6 he again struggled, finishing with 11 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block while shooting just 25% from the field. He is dangerous around the basket to score and to grab rebounds. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. When he is aggressive, he can be a big problem.

Honorable Mention
Jayson Tatum vs Caleb Martin
Martin has played very well in all 6 games so far. He moved into the starting lineup in place of Kevin Love for Game 6. He had 18 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in Game 3 while shooting 64.6% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc. He also played well in Game 4 with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. He shot 66.7% from the field and 40% on three pointers. He was their best player in Game 6, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds, 1 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He shot 53.8% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. Tatum finished Game 6 with 31 points, but he scored just 6 points in the second half. The Celtics need more from him in the second half and down the stretch if they hope to win Game 7.

Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense will always be the biggest key to winning every game and is even more important in the playoffs. Defense wins championships is not just a saying it is the truth. And, defense was the biggest failing for the Celtics in the first 3 games. We finally saw the Celtics get back to their defensive identity in Games 4,5 and 6. In their losses in the first 3 games, the Celtics allowed 120.7 points per game on 51.9% shooting. In their wins in the last 3 games, the Celtics allowed just 99.7 points per game on 43% shooting. In Games 4, 5 and 6, the defense keyed the offense as they got stops and forced turnovers and were running for transition baskets. The Celtics forced 16 turnovers in Game 5 for 27 Celtics points. The Celtics must make defense their focus and priority in this game.

Rebound – As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to grab rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of the game as well. The Celtics were out-rebounded in both Games 1 and 2. However, they out-rebounded the Heat 57-35 in Game 3 with 21 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. That was in part because of the Celtics missing so many shots and the Heat hitting most of theirs. The Celtics were out-rebounded 44-39 in Game 4 but they out-rebounded Miami 37-36 in Game 5 and outscored them in 2nd chance points 17-7. In Game 6, the rebounds were even at 47, but the Celtics outscored the Heat 18-12 in second chance points. Without Derrick White’s key rebound and put back at the end, the Celtics season would be over. The Celtics have to work harder on the boards than the Heat and win the rebounding battle if they want to win this game and series.

Be Aggressive – The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. For the first 3 games, they have allowed the Heat to be more aggressive and to play with more energy and effort. The Celtics must be more aggressive in driving to the basket, in diving for loose balls, in boxing out and going for rebounds, and they have to be the team that just plays harder. The Celtics must especially be more aggressive on defense. They have to have each other’s backs and they have to play smart team defense once again. The Celtics must leave it all out there on the court and play their hardest if they want to make history and win this series. They must be aggressive from the opening tip until the final buzzer and not let up, especially down the stretch.

3 Point Shooting – Three point shooting is important for the Celtics. The Celtics are 38-2 when they shoot 40% or more from beyond the arc. In the first 3 games, the Celtics shot 29% on 3 pointers and 39% on open 3 pointers. In Games 4 and 5, they shot 40% on 3 pointers and 53% on open 3 pointers. In Game 6, they shot just 20% from beyond the arc while allowing the Heat to shoot 46.7% on threes. Up until Game 6, teams were 89-0 when shooting 45% or more on threes. Other than Smart and White, the Celtics were 0-17 on 3’s in Game 6. They got lucky to win Game 5 but they need to shoot better to win this game. The Celtics have to focus on moving the ball to find the open man and to create the best shots and they have to keep their focus to make those shots.

X-Factors
Home Game – Home court hasn’t meant much for the Celtics in these playoffs. The Celtics can’t assume that they will win because they are at home because the Heat have already taken two games in Boston in this series. Often young players and role players struggle more on the road, especially when the crowd is into the game and loud and when the pressure is on. The Garden needs to be as loud as they were for Game 7 against Philly to cheer the Celtics to a win in this one.

Coaching – Much has been made of the coaching matchup between rookie coach Joe Mazzulla and very experienced Erik Spoelstra. Joe Mazzulla has come under much scrutiny for his lineup decisions, his lack of time outs, and other coaching decisions in the first 3 games but he got some kudos for his decisions in Games 4 and 5 and 6. Spoelstra has clearly gotten the upper hand in the first 3 games, but Mazzulla came out on top in the last three games. Which coach will make the right moves in this game?

Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. Some favor the home team. Some favor the road team. Some just make bad, head scratching calls. At times the officials have an agenda of some sort. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls and no calls take them out of the game or affect their focus. The Celtics simply must stop complaining about every single call. Focus on playing the game and not on the officials.



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