A 16-seed beating a 1-seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was considered impossible until 2018. It happened twice in the 2023 tourney. The Boston Red Sox were a franchise for 103 years before they became the first MLB team to come back from a 3-0 deficit. Currently, NBA teams are 0-150 in playoff series when they fall in that hole. The Boston Celtics looked destined to become No. 151 until a lights-out shooting night, combined with a rash of Miami Heat turnovers kept their season alive.
Injury has also come for the Heat. Starting guard Gabe Vincent has been ruled out due to an ankle injury that he suffered in Game 4. The 3-point shot carried the Heat past the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, and has had the Celtics’ defense largely flummoxed in the Eastern Conference Finals. (The New York Knicks shot so poorly in the semifinals that threes weren’t necessary.)
The public will very likely not be given any diagnosis on Vincent’s ankle until the day of the next Heat game whether it’s Game 6 at home on Saturday, or Game 1 on June 1 in Denver. Losing a second-consecutive game though would not put an uncomfortable amount of pressure on them. Even the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls lost two in a row to the Seattle Supersonics in the Finals before cruising to a Game 6 victory.
Just because it can happen doesn’t mean it will
Mathematically the No. 2 seed Celtics do have a chance to pull off what would go down as the best, and most ironic, upset in NBA history. Realistically though, how significant of a chance do the Celtics have of preventing the only No. 8 seed in NBA history, in a non-shortened season, from making the NBA Finals?
They had better hope that the law of averages works out in their favor, and the Heat’s shooting falls back to earth. The Celtics have been awful at the 3-point line while the Heat have been damn near magical. In two of the four games the Heat have converted on greater than 50 percent of their 3-point attempts. The tides turned in Game 4 with the Heat shooting a ghastly 25 percent from three while the Celtics converted at a healthy 40 percent clip.
For all that the Celtics have done wrong in this series, if the Heat continue to shoot from three anywhere close to the way that they did during the regular season — fourth-worst in the league — they will have a golden opportunity to win Game 5 and any subsequent matchup.
As blistering as the Heat’s shooting has been in this series, only in Game 3 did it truly give the Celtics no chance at victory. In game 1 in Boston, the Heat saw a 12-point lead quickly get chopped in half in the fourth quarter. In Game 2 the Celtics held a double-digit lead twice during the final 12 minutes.
Celtics inconsistent at home
Self-inflicted errors put them in a disastrous situation — down 2-0 when hosting the first two games. Turnovers plagued the Celtics in the first game. Every time that they got the score within two possessions during the fourth quarter, they turned the ball over.
Then in Game 2, an advantage that they had over the Heat became a weakness. The Celtics have outrebounded the Heat in the Eastern Conference in all phases — total, defensive, and offensive. However, in that game, they lost control of the glass.
The Heat outrebounded the Celtics by 10 in the fourth quarter, including some backbreakers on the offensive end. With 1:20 remaining in the game the Celtics were down by three points and forced the Heat into two misses, but failed both times to secure the offensive rebound. The third time was the charm as the Heat went up by five.
Celtics are favored to force Game 6
With Vincent out the Celtics’ chances at winning Game 5 have significantly improved, but even if both teams were healthy they would have the better roster. They had the best net rating in the NBA during the regular season, and were the only team in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating.
Their season is on the line, but their better roster is whole — sans the hand injury that Jaylen Brown is playing through. If the Heat’s 3-point shooting percentage flattens, and the Celtics stop shooting themselves in the foot, lightning striking twice in Boston might become probable as opposed to unthinkable.