Why Celtics are supremely confident heading to Game 7. And what Heat did to Tatum/Brown

·4 min read
Al Diaz/adiaz@miamiherald.com

No team in the NBA has been better after a loss in this calendar year than the Celtics.

And that’s among the reasons why Boston — stunned by its 111-103 Game 6 loss to the Heat — travels to Miami feeling good about its chances in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Jimmy Butler just saved Miami Heat’s season and gave us greatest gift in sports: a Game 7 | Opinion

On a 1 to 10 scale, Celtics star Jayson Tatum described his confidence level as a 10.

Since Jan. 21, the Celtics are 12-1 following a loss, including 5-0 in the playoffs and 2-0 in this series.

Tatum has averaged 32.6 points per game after losses in postseason, most by a Celtic ever in the playoffs in that situation, topping John Havlicek (29.3 in 1974) and Larry Bird (28.9 in 1987).

“A couple of us have been in this situation before, so we know what’s at stake,” Tatum said. “We know how much this means to everybody.”

And there’s this: Boston has won by margins of 25 and 13 in the past two games in Miami.

“We’ve won two in Miami, so that’s the positive of it,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We know we can go there and win. It’s almost like we have to take the harder route at times.”

The Celtics won a Game 7 in the conference semifinals against Milwaukee, but that was on Boston’s home court.

“We’re frustrated, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be us,” Celtics guard Derrick White said after Miami’s win on Friday.

One key in Game 6 —beyond Jimmy Butler’s 47-point, 9-rebound, 8-assist game for the ages — was the Heat’s swarming second-half defense on Tatum and Jaylen Brown, limiting them to a combined seven shots after each scored 18 in the first half.

Tatum closed with 30 points, Brown 20.

Those two combined for more fourth quarter turnovers (five, including four from Tatum) than baskets (one, by Tatum). Each took only one shot from the field in the fourth, a quarter in which the Heat outscored Boston 29-28.

“They were doubling me on the match-ups that I had in the second half,” Brown said. “Finding the right balance, being more assertive [is important]. You don’t want to force it if you’ve got two guys on you.”

Udoka said the Heat were “loading up on Tatum, like always” and forced turnovers with double teams.

In reflecting on their Game 6 loss, Udoka bemoaned Celtics turnovers (17 of them), “poor fouls at timely possessions in the game” and said that “we didn’t contest or get out on shooters as well as we should have.”

Though Boston went ahead by three points with 4:43 left before Kyle Lowry tied it with a three, Udoka said “any time we got within striking range, it felt like we had a poor decision, whether it was a turnover and they got out and scored.”

And Udoka was unhappy that Boston didn’t “match” Butler’s intensity or slow him at all.

“He put his head down, got to the basket, way too many easy shots or point-blank lay-ups and just poor defense on our part on him,” Udoka said. “We [understand] that he’s going to come out and put it on his shoulders, and we didn’t match it.”

Though national media has consistently underestimated Miami, the Celtics have offered respect.

“They played an amazing game,” Brown said. “They made crazy shots. That team over there is hungry. They are experienced. We’ve been resilient all year, and this is a different test. Obviously this game hurt to lose on our home floor, but we’ve got to have a short-term memory.

“Just got to breathe. You’ve got to get ready, prepare mentally, but come into the game loose, free, with a clear mind.”

THIS AND THAT

P.J. Tucker said “it’s funny because before the game, me and Markieff [Morris] were talking with Jimmy, ‘Yo, we need 50. We need 50 tonight.’ He looked at us, didn’t say a word. He just nodded his head, kept going.”

▪ Butler earned cross-sectional praise on Twitter, from different sports. Dallas Cowboys standout linebacker Micah Parsons tweeted: “Jimmy Butler a superstar [I don’t care] what y’all say!! He shows up every post season!!”

Nets guard Seth Curry tweeted: “47, 9 and 8 against that defense. Salute.”

▪ Butler became only the fourth player in history to produce at least 45 points and at least 8 rebounds in a road playoff elimination game, joining Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James (who did it in a Game 6 in Boston as a member of the Heat in 2012) and Tatum (earlier in these playoffs).

Butler has four games of 40 points and two steals in these playoffs – as many as every other NBA player combined.

▪ Per NBA.com, Butler drove 23 times in Game 6, compared with 19 combined the previous two games, when he appeared limited by a knee injury.

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