Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 25: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 25, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“Pressure’s on them.”

That’s what Jayson Tatum told ESPN after the Celtics 110-97 Game 5 win over the Miami Heat Thursday night. And he’s absolutely right.

  • With that win on Thursday, the Celtics extended their season for a second time in a row after falling down 0-3 to the Miami Heat in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. Less than a week after many were ready to write this Celtics season off as another postseason not living up to the regular season standards, and ready to ‘blow up’ the current core that’s been together for half a decade, they’ve continued to position themselves towards one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history. Of the 151 teams to fall down 3-0 in the history of the NBA playoffs, all 151 went on to lose their series.

    That number right there is why Tatum’s assessment of where the ‘pressure’ is is correct. After practically cakewalking three-fourths of their way to a commanding lead over the East’s No. 2 seed, it’s now the No. 8 seed Heat that have to prove that the lights aren’t too bright.

    There was little pressure for the Heat coming into this series. Even after knocking off the top-seeded Bucks in the first round then knocking off the fifth-seed Knicks in six games, many still expected the Celtics to roll over them on their way to the finals. After all, the Celtics had just beat the Heat last year without home court advantage, and their best player – forward Jimmy Butler – doesn’t fit the mold of a typical NBA superstar as a grind-it-out player more than a spot-up shooter.

    In a league where offense is often the driving force behind both player and team evaluation, Miami ranked 29th in the NBA in scoring during the 2022-2023 regular season averaging 109.5 points per game. Many were quick to overlook their stellar, second-ranked defense (109.8 points/game), and with that, overlook them as a serious contender.

  • In a way the Heat comfortably winning the first three games of this series – including two in Boston – only took pressure off Miami. They weren’t the story. They were playing with house money. Instead, the focus was on what at one point was viewed as a juggernaut Celtics team that was on its way to getting blown out of the playoffs by an eight seed.

    Even after the Celtics’ Game 4, sweep-avoiding win, that still felt like the case. Sweeps are hard. There’s no shame in winning in five games, especially as an eight seed against a two seed. Plus, the Celtics have not used their home court advantage to their advantage in recent years. Entering Thursday night, the Celtics were 10-11 at home in the playoffs the last two seasons, including a 4-5 record in 2023 with an 0-2 mark in Game 5s.

    Yet the Celtics were able to turn their Game 5 luck around. Now they have the momentum, and find themselves in a familiar spot. Being down 3-2 and heading on the road isn’t necessarily the easiest of circumstances, but it’s a spot the Celtics are familiar with. Both last year against the Bucks and this year against the Sixers, the Celtics were in the exact same situation and went on to win the series.

    Given that, the Celtics are now in a position to deliver Miami a humiliating playoff exit, rather than the other way. Meanwhile, Miami is faced with the question of whether they were better flying under the radar than being the main story.

  • While the Celtics seem to be comfortable and even embracing their newfound underdog role, the Heat suddenly find themselves in the spotlight. Instead of being a plucky eight seed, they’re now at risk of making NBA history in another way – being the first team ever to blow a 3-0 series lead. Their margin for error has shrunk significantly. A loss in Game 6 would see them having to return to Boston to face a red-hot Celtics team in a Game 7 at what would certainly be a buzzsaw of an environment at TD Garden, on the Monday night capping off a long weekend.

    But therein lies what should be Heat fans’ biggest hope and the Celtics fans’ biggest fear – the roles have almost come all the way back around to where we started. After their two wins in which they looked like their regular season selves, the Celtics are all of a sudden the darlings of this series again, albeit as underdogs. On Thursday night, Tatum said the reality of being down 0-3 in the series has allowed the Celtics to “play more free and relaxed,” but at what point could that comfort become the complacency we saw from the team early in the series?

  • In what could maybe be seen as a breaking moment for the Heat on Thursday, Butler seemed go guarantee a win for the Heat in Saturday’s Game 6. The continued confidence of a underdog? Or a panicking front-runner trying to fire up his teammates?

    That all being said, this is just in the short term. The Celtics will, and should, face criticism if they come up short in the playoffs again this year. But in trying to get them to that point, the ball is (literally) in Miami’s court.

    To go back to Tatum’s original point – yes, the pressure in this series is now all on the Heat, after falling on the Celtics’ shoulders for the past two weeks. What does that mean for both sides? We’ll find out starting Saturday night. Coverage of Game 6 can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Sports Hub BetMGM Celtics Radio Network, starting with pregame at 8 p.m. leading up to an 8:30 tip.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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