Going into a rather surprising Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the 8th-seeded Miami Heat, the Celtics were the heavy favorite to win the East. Some even wondered if the Heat stood any chance at all. That narrative changed quickly. Miami already took out the Bucks in five swift games, ending the title favorite’s season, and now the Celtics are their latest victim. Despite being the better team on paper, the Celtics are staring down a 3-0 deficit that no team has ever come back from.
Winning four games in a row is difficult but not impossible, so the Celtics have to give it their all in Game 4. A win might only postpone the inevitable, but it would at least allow the Celtics to continue on with some pride. There are few things more embarrassing than being a completely healthy second seed and getting swept by an eighth seed that lost two rotational players to injuries. So, let’s look at three things the Celtics must do to bounce back against the Heat.
Celtics #3: Get their heads in the game.
All series long, the Celtics have not looked like the title contenders they seemed to be during the regular season. They were a bad crunch-time team all season long, but in this series, a certain carelessness seems to have infected the team. Miami does not have a better roster. They are relying on undrafted players, veterans nearing the end of their careers, and sheer willpower to surround Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. And yet, they are beating the Celtics because they do not take anything for granted, are focused, and have a clear defensive identity.
The Celtics have none of those things right now. They turn the ball over like crazy, especially in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. They let missed opportunities affect them and committed some unnecessary fouls. In Game 3, for example, the Celtics fouled 24 times compared to Miami’s 16. Nevertheless, they actually had the lead for quite a while in the first two games. Until they blew it, that is. In Game 1, they held on to a decent lead going into halftime but then returned to the game and let the Heat outscore them 46-25 in the third quarter. The next game was not much different, as they let two double-digit leads slip away from them.
Defense is a big problem for the Celtics in these situations. They used to be one of the better defensive teams out there, but somewhere along the way, they lost their defensive identity. Getting that back should be the top priority. In the first two games, they mostly struggled to contain Butler and Adebayo. While they made a big mistake by not doubling Butler and forcing the ball out of his hands, getting beaten by Miami’s two stars is somewhat excusable. Giving up backdoor cuts to Duncan Robinson and letting him beat you off the dribble is not That is no disrespect towards Robinson; he had a great game, but Boston let the Heat’s role players beat them in Game 3. If they can’t guard the role players, then how are they supposed to hold off Butler for four games?
If they want to get back into this series, the Celtics need to focus, limit their turnovers, make smart plays,, and buckle down defensively like we know they can. They have to execute at the highest level because, with victory right at their fingertips, the Heat will want to close out this series as quickly as possible, and Game 4 will be even tougher.