It’s Fine That The Celtics Are Kicking The Heat’s Butts Off. I’m Not Worried. It’s Fine!
9:20 AM EDT on May 26, 2023
The Boston Celtics beat the hell out of the Miami Heat Thursday night, 110–97, Boston's second consecutive lopsided victory after falling into a deadly 3–0 hole in this Eastern Conference Finals. You have heard this stat one million times, but it bears repeating: In 150 tries, the NBA has failed to produce one single instance of a team winning a series after falling behind 3–0. Only three teams in history have even forced a Game 7.
Because I am a very savvy and well-dressed hoops fan with immaculate personal hygiene and a long uninterrupted history of being correct all the time, I of course know better than to follow any irrational lines of thought about what is taking place in this series. A foolish "casual" might see the higher-seeded team—and, indeed, the team with the best regular-season record to have advanced from the first round of the playoffs—romp for six uninterrupted quarters, and think, Hmm, something seems to have changed here. They might observe that the Celtics shot uncharacteristically poorly and were uncharacteristically loose with the ball through the first three games of the series but now appear to have buttoned up where it counts, and think, Hmm, the Celtics of the regular season were actually way better than the Miami Heat, who finished the regular season with a negative net rating and then dropped a play-in game to the Atlanta freaking Hawks.
This distracting factoid might cause such a person—a dunce, a nincompoop, a slack-jawed shit-for-brains—to conclude, as Charles Barkley suggested during halftime of Game 5, that if both teams play at anything like their best from here on out it would make sense to expect the Celtics to beat the hell out of the Heat, which is what they have now done for back-to-back games. Hmm, this person might think, pondering the stability of a 3–2 series lead over a title favorite, causing the dried garbanzo this person has for a brain to rattle around audibly in the cobwebbed interior of their skull.
I, a sophisticated basketball observer, of course know better, and I am backed up on this by no less an authority on the condition of this basketball series than the various members of the Miami Heat. "Why would we lose confidence?" asks Bam Adebayo, who has lost his minutes over the last two games by a combined 36 points. "When we started this journey, nobody believed in us. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the first round. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the second round. And now we are here one game away." That's right! That's exactly what I was thinking as I watched Adebayo sullenly ride the bench for the entire fourth quarter Thursday night, having been played off the floor by Al Horford and Robert Williams III. It was in fact after Adebayo's sixth turnover of the night, when he was stripped of the ball in the paint by Marcus Smart and then outfought for the ball by Grant Williams and then lay there like a big dejected sack of potatoes while the Celtics jogged the other way for a transition three to push the lead to 23 points, that I said aloud, "Actually the Heat are for sure the better team, here."
So sure are we—the true basketball knowers—that the Heat have the Celtics just where they want them, having now lured the Celtics into a trap by allowing the Celtics to beat them like a dusty area rug for two games, that Jimmy Butler could be seen sauntering around the loser's locker room Thursday night, munching popcorn and monologuing not-worriedly about his confidence. "Because the last two games are not who we are. It just happened to be that way," he said, of a dispiriting two-game stint when his team performed much more like the way it performed across the 82 games of the regular season. "We stopped playing defense halfway because we didn't make shots that we want to make. But that's easily correctable. You just have to come out and play harder from the jump. Like I always say, it's going to be all smiles, and we are going to keep it very, very, very consistent, knowing that we are going to win next game."
Consistency! That's just what I was about to say. The great ones all understand the importance of consistency, of maintaining a level of performance across a length of time. Like, for example, how the Heat were the second-best three-point-shooting playoff team by accuracy through their first 14 games of these playoffs, after finishing the regular season as the fourth-worst three-point shooting team in the entire league. It's simple: If the Heat are merely consistent with their unsustainable performance of the past month, instead of consistent with the six months of performance that left them as the East's eighth seed, they will obviously and easily win the next game, over a 57-win Celtics team that made the Finals last year. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by Miami's shooting regression in the past two losses, which reflects much more closely the way they've performed over the course of this full season. That's nerd shit.
Where bozos and interlopers might be concerned that the discouraging turn of these past two games might leak into Miami's vibes as the pressure ramps up in Game 6, the Heat and I understand that actually there is no such thing as vibes, or pressure, or indeed discouragement. In fact I just invented all of those words out of thin air, as a trick. "Who cares about mood?" asks Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, clearly unfazed by the sight of his players milling about, dead-eyed and mournful, like attendees at a child's funeral, while the higher-seeded Celtics ran a joyous layup line through their defense in the literal Eastern Conference Finals. "One game doesn't lead to the next game. Based on all the experience that we've had, it doesn't matter in the playoffs. It doesn't matter if you lose by whatever. We beat them by whatever in Game 3. It just doesn't matter. It's about collectively preparing and putting together a great game. We'll play much better on Saturday."
The action on the court may say that the Celtics have finally figured out over the past six quarters that they are supposed to be the better team in this series. That realization may ultimately have come too late to change the outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals, but it has certainly made things a lot more interesting. If you're a filthy casual, that is! The Heat and I understand that actually it's all in the bag, a simple matter of knowing that you are going to play much better in the next game, and that you will naturally win. One hundred and fifty other teams have failed at what the Boston Celtics are now attempting. Clearly this is a trend that will continue forever. Everything's fine!
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