Celtics look to pull off the impossible, as Heat stand on brink of making NBA Finals

MIAMI (AP) — Blown out in Game 3, facing elimination in Game 4, tasked with engineering the sort of comeback that no team in their league has ever pulled off before.

This may sound familiar to Boston fans.

Yes, what the Red Sox did to the New York Yankees in 2004 was discussed around the Boston Celtics on Monday. A day after a debacle in Miami to fall into a 3-0 deficit in these Eastern Conference finals — “embarrassing,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said — the Celtics will try to extend the series and at least delay a Heat celebration in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

“We still believe we’re the better team,” Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon said Monday. “We have not played like it in any of the three games. But, you know, there is always a first.”

No NBA team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series; it's happened only once in Major League Baseball, when the Red Sox shook off a 19-8 drubbing in Game 3 to win four straight and top the Yankees in that 2004 AL championship series.

Of course, there had never been a No. 8 seed that won an NBA playoff game by 26 points, either — until Miami rolled its way to a 128-102 cakewalk in Game 3. It led to All-Star Game MVP Jayson Tatum saying Boston needs to show some pride, veteran big man Al Horford calling upon the Celtics to stay together and first-year coach Joe Mazzulla taking the blame as speculation about his future only gets louder and louder.

“We didn't play well at all,” Tatum said. “Obviously, by the score, it showed.”

Meanwhile, a Heat win on Tuesday would send Miami to the NBA Finals for the seventh time since 2006 — and give the team more than a week to rest before the series opens on June 1. The Denver Nuggets won the Western Conference title on Monday night, sweeping LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

If Miami wins the East, Denver will have home-court advantage in the finals. If Boston rallies, the Celtics would have the home-court edge.

Before all that, there's a Game 4 in Miami, and that has Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's full attention.

“We can expect just a great, competitive game,” Spoelstra said. “Boston has great pride. They’ll bring it. And you want to embrace it. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself and think about anything else other than embracing the competition. This is what you want. You want to be in the Eastern Conference finals in a really competitive game with a chance to finish and close out.”

Thing is, that was also the thinking going into Game 3. After dropping the first two games at home, conventional wisdom would suggest that Boston would have arrived Sunday night loaded up for their best effort.

It wasn't even close.

Boston trailed by as many as 33 in Game 3 — the second-biggest deficit the Celtics faced this season. They trailed Oklahoma City by 37 on Jan. 3, a game where the Thunder scored 88 points in the middle two quarters on the way to a 150-117 romp. The Celtics responded from that defeat by winning their next nine games.

“Faith is the most important thing in the world,” Mazzulla said.

The Heat would say the same. They're trying to join the 1999 New York Knicks as the only No. 8 seeds to reach the NBA Finals, and they're doing so after nearly missing the playoffs altogether.

They know the chance they have Tuesday. They watched Boston celebrate in front of Heat fans last year in Game 7 of the East finals. They have an opportunity to make the Celtics watch them celebrate winning the East this time around.

“We have a great opportunity ahead of us,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said.

3-0, 0-3

The Heat are up 3-0 in a series for the 10th time, including one sweep of a best-of-five in 2000. In the eight previous best-of-seven instances where Miami has led 3-0, the Heat have gone 5-3 in Game 4 and never been extended past Game 5.

Boston is down 0-3 in a series for the eighth time, including one best-of-five sweep defeat. The Celtics forced one of those best-of-seven deficits to six games, one to five games and got swept on the other four occasions.


Heat forward Kevin Love has a strained muscle in his lower left leg and is probable for Game 4. He got hurt in the first quarter of Game 3. “Felt like a muscle cramp,” Love said, adding that if Miami's lead hadn't been so sizable that he would have lobbied to return to Sunday's game.


Jimmy Butler was needed for only 31 minutes in Game 3, after he averaged almost 42 minutes in his last nine playoff appearances for Miami.


AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports