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The Boston Celtics haven’t been to the NBA Finals since 2010 when they lost to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. Considering that they have been to the Eastern Conference Finals six times since then, it’s understandable if they thought that they were overdue. On Friday night, they had a golden opportunity to punch their ticket by defeating the Miami Heat but bad habits and a historic game from Jimmy Butler ensured that there would be a Game 7.
Heading into the game, it felt like the only team that could beat them was themselves. Game 6 didn’t entirely disprove that theory as the Celtics began the game playing the same sloppy basketball that has been their trademark during their many inexplicable playoff losses this year. They committed countless unforced turnovers, picked up brutal fouls and allowed Miami to race to an early double-digit lead that forced them to play from behind for the vast majority of the game.
While the Celtics managed to briefly take a late lead in the fourth, they just couldn’t hold on. Much of the credit goes to Jimmy Butler, who put up a dominant game-saving performance by scoring 47 points, collecting nine rebounds and dishing eight assists. Not even a desperately-needed performance from Derrick White, who scored 22 points off the bench and forced countless Miami turnovers, was enough to offset Butler’s contributions.
More painful, at least strictly from just an irony standpoint, many of the game’s biggest momentum-crushing shots came from former Celtics two-way player Max Strus, who the team infamously cut in a roster crunch in favor of Javonte Green back in 2019. The Heat ended up winning 111-103, although it was a tighter game than the final score indicates.
How badly did the Celtics need to win Game 6? Well, according to calculations from The Ringer, they were predicted to win the series 83% of the time heading into the game. Now, following their loss, their odds have dropped to 51%. The Eastern Conference Finals are essentially a coin-flip and that’s only because the Celtics (strangely enough) have been as good on the road as they have been on the home this season.
Friday’s loss was especially brutal because injury luck was on their side. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams were both available to play, meaning only little-used Sam Hauser was out, while the Heat was forced to play without the aptly-named Tyler Herro. It turns out it didn’t matter as Butler played well enough for both of them.
Maybe they were jinxed. The previous night, the Golden State Warriors completed their gentleman’s sweep against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. After the game, the Warriors’ Draymond Green went out of his way to give the Heat extra motivation with some primo bulletin board material by dismissing Miami’s chances.
If Green was playing four-dimensional chess, it worked. The Warriors can now sit back and watch the Celtics and the Heat beat each other up in what will assuredly be a physical Game 7. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, beyond their road success this season, these Celtics have had a postseason-long habit of not losing back-to-back games.
There is a first time for everything, however. With Herro potentially back in the lineup for Miami, the Celtics are going to have to put together their best team effort of the year to avoid what would be the most disappointing C’s loss since that Game 7 against the Lakers back in 2010. The NBA Finals are still within their grasp but Miami is going to make them earn it.