One-hundred-and-fifty times a team in the National Basketball Association has fallen behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series and 150 times that team has gone on to lose the series. That is an irrefutable fact.
But could the Boston Celtics break that ignominious history beginning tonight against the Miami Heat? Could the Celtics, so long NBA royalty, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most titles in league history with 17, build on Tuesday’s surprising win in Miami to move the series from 0-3 to 1-3 to 2-3 with a victory this evening?
It certainly looked as if the Celtics were done following a lifeless 128-102 loss on Sunday night in Miami that really wasn’t that close.
Having already lost the first two at home (Boston is oddly 10-11 at home in its last 21 postseason games), the Celtics gave the impression of a team that had a golf or fishing trip scheduled for midweek, or just as soon as they could clean out their lockers following that Tuesday contest.
But then they suddenly started knocking down a plethora of 3-pointers in the final half after trailing by six points (56-50) at the break. They outscored the host Heat by 23 in the final half.
Suddenly, to paraphrase Mark Twain, tales of the Celtics’ demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
Or as Celtic guard and Atlanta native Jaylen Brown said afterward, “We wanted to make sure that we looked each other in the eye and came out today and put our best foot forward, and I'm proud of our group for doing that because you see teams with their back against the wall and you see they just collapse. You didn't see that tonight. You saw us come together, play defense, make the right plays.”
One game does not a comeback make. Miami needs just one win in the three remaining games. Boston must sweep, a tall order against a team as connected and well coached as the Heat.
Nor does Miami, at least on the surface, appear anything less than confident that this was an aberration rather than a potential avalanche.
"If anything, it will build momentum for us knowing that we have to play with a lot more energy," said Jimmy Butler, the team’s leading scorer and clutchest player. "We've got to play like our backs are against the wall. But I think all year long, we've been better when we've had to do things the hard way."
And he’s right, to a point. But Boston has proved each of the last two seasons, its talent is unmistakable. It lost in the FInals to Golden State a year ago. It looked to be headed back there until losing these first three games to a Miami team that, at least on paper, lacks the talent and top-side depth of the Celts.
It’s still a longshot, of course. Four straight wins is difficult under any circumstance in a conference final. Then again, while it hasn’t happened in pro basketball, the Boston Red Sox defied major league baseball history in 2004 by coming from a 3-0 hole to shock the Yankees in the ALCS. Maryland-Baltimore County a few years ago became the first No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament to defeat a No. 1 seed when they shocked Virginia.
In hockey, it’s not even that much of a surprise. Sort of. Four times an NHL team has advanced from a 3-0 hole to advance, the last time in 2014 when the Kings stopped the Sharks in a first-round Western Conference series.
So it CAN happen.
On Monday, as he attempted to clear his head of the horror the Heat had inflicted on him and his teammates the night before, Boston’s Marcus Smart warned anyone who would listen, “Don’t let us win one. Just don’t let us win one.”
Now they’ve won one. If they can keep winning one three more times before they next lose, the Celts can make history rather than sustaining history for a 151st time.