BOSTON – The Boston Celtics have an uphill battle ahead of them.
They dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat at home, and now they’ve got to head down to South Beach with their backs nearly against the wall, desperately needing a win.
Even though the odds are now against them in this battle, they’re still confident they can bring enough of a fight to turn this series around.
“It's tough. It's a challenge,” Jayson Tatum said following Friday night’s 111-105 Game 2 loss, in which he logged team highs of 34 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists. “They came in and won two games. They played well, you give them credit. But we're not dead or anything. We've got a great opportunity. I still have the utmost confidence – everybody has the utmost confidence. We've just got to get ready for Game 3.”
Game 2 featured some of the same issues as Game 1. The C’s coughed up a 12-point lead (in Game 1 it was a 13-point lead) and struggled with their late-game execution.
Miami was the aggressor at pivotal points in the second halves of both games, and Jaylen Brown says he and his teammates need to do a better job at matching the Heat’s tenacity in those situations.
“We just got to be more forceful with the ball,” he said. “We can’t get too apprehensive. We’ve got to still be aggressive and take what the defense gives us, but step in and knock shots down with confidence. I think we start to look in those situations and we should just go. I think that's it.”
In Game 1, the Celtics weren’t aggressive enough in the third quarter, leading to a 46-25 Heat advantage for that frame. In Game 2, it was the fourth quarter that caused them trouble as Miami outscored them 24-9 down the stretch.
“I thought we got some great looks,” Brown said, despite the team’s rough shooting patch during the final six-plus minutes. “Me, personally, I thought I had some great looks down the line that didn't go in. Can't stop our aggressiveness. We're going into a hostile environment, and we got to do what needs to be done. So, we got to come ready to play.”
The Celtics will certainly review those last six minutes during Saturday’s film session. But outside of the execution aspect, it’s going to take a certain mindset to overcome Miami’s defensive discipline in such situations.
“We have to go back and really look back at those last couple of minutes and realize it’s gonna take the team,” said Grant Williams, who made his team's only three field goals in the final eight minutes. “We can’t do it individually. We have to have each other’s backs and make sure that their zone can’t stagnate us."
The task won’t get any easier in a hostile environment, but this Celtics team has done a solid job responding to adversity in the past, and they’ll have to do so again.
It’s an uphill battle, and they’re going to continue to fight.
“At the end of the day, we have a real, real decision to make,” said Williams. “And that decision is going to be: are we going to come back and really set the tone for the rest of this year and really make a statement? Or are we going to come out and lay down? And I don’t think this team is built for laying down.”