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Still Down 3-1 to Heat, Celtics Cling to Hope as East Finals Shift Back to Boston

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ season didn’t end in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Miami Heat, and now there is a flicker of hope.

Whether Boston’s 116-99 victory on Tuesday night was the start of a miraculous revival or simply a momentary reprieve from what NBA history suggests is still inevitable remains to be determined.

At the very least, the Celtics’ win made their chances of becoming the first NBA team in 151 tries to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series move from insurmountable to iffy heading into Game 5 at TD Garden on Thursday.

That’s good for a team that had spent most of this series looking nothing like the one that earned the conference’s second seed.

“We’ve just got to go win another one. That’s all that matters,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “We take it one game at a time. We understand the odds are stacked against us, but we’re a team that believes in us no matter what, and we’ve just got to keep going, and all that matters is the next game.”

So much of what made the Celtics one of the league’s top scoring and defensive teams during the regular season was eviscerated in three straight losses to Miami to open the series.

The Heat befuddled Boston in those games. It took away top scoring threats Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, while outshooting a Celtics team that usually has demolished opponents at the 3-point line.

Boston showed acumen on both ends in Game 4, rallying during a game-changing 18-0 run in the third quarter. Led by Tatum’s 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, the Celtics outscored the Heat by 30 points from beyond the arc and turned Miami’s 16 turnovers into 27 points.

It also gave the Celtics a blueprint going forward.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) attempts to block a shot to the basket by Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the second half of Game 4 during the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

“We’ve still got a long uphill battle to go,” Tatum said.

While the win gave the Celtics a little life, the Heat can blame themselves for not finishing. The game was close for three quarters and Miami still just needs to win one of the final three games to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since its run in 2020 in the Florida bubble. Denver is waiting to play the winner after sweeping the Lakers.

Boston won three times on the Heat’s home floor last year in the East finals. With a win on Thursday, Miami would accomplish the same feat on Boston’s floor this year.

The Celtics are 4-5 at home this postseason.

Heat star Jimmy Butler said he isn’t worried about Boston’s first win giving it momentum heading home.

“No. If anything, it will build momentum for us knowing that we have to play with a lot more energy,” Butler said. “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.”

INJURY WATCH

The Heat are preparing for Game 5 with two key players on the mend.

Gabe Vincent, who has been a sparkplug through the series and had 17 points in Game 4, left the game in the fourth quarter after turning his left ankle.

Kyle Lowry also took an awkward fall, leaving the condition of Miami’s point guards up in the air.

“Whenever you ask these guys, they are like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ So we’ll see,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 4.

 

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