The Celtics kept coming back to life with a crucial Game 6 in Miami by a knock

Team Bontemps, ESPN26 May 2023, 1:02 a.m. ET

BOSTON — Prior to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about his team’s mindset going into the second straight elimination game.

“Win or die,” he said.

After a dominant showing Thursday night, the Celtics are still alive.

Boston took control from the start and never looked back, shooting over 50% from the field, forcing the Miami Heat into 16 turnovers that amounted to 27 points and had four players finish with at least 20 points in wire-to-wire, 110-99 wins. in front of a packed crowd at a sold out TD Garden.

“Our backs have hit the wall,” said Jaylen Brown, who finished with 21 points. “Obviously, we didn’t imagine to be in this position, 3-0 down, but when the adversity comes you see what the team is really like.

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“It couldn’t be worse than being 3-0 down, but we don’t look back, we don’t go in different directions. We stick together.”

The Celtics are one step closer to becoming the first team in NBA history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven series. In fact, in 151 draws to go 3-0, the Celtics are only the 22nd team to be 3-0 down with a higher regular season win percentage than their opponents. Two had previously done so: the Washington Capitols played the Chicago Stags in 1947, and the Orlando Magic played the Celtics in 2010.

Now, the Celtics will try to do something those teams couldn’t: win in Miami on Saturday night and bring the series back here for Game 7 on Memorial Day.

“For some odd reason, even last year, we always seemed to make it a little bit harder on ourselves,” said Jayson Tatum, who scored 21 points and provided double-digit assists (11) for the first time this season. “But what I do know is that you can see the true character of a person, a team when things aren’t going well, and our ability to stick together, figure things out when it’s not necessarily looking good for us. It’s unlike any team that’s ever been I followed this year and last year, only the core group was able to respond.

“I think it’s just a testament to our togetherness, it’s clear how badly we wanted it, and we have a room full of determination, tough guys pushing each other, you look to your left and your right, believe me. the guy next to you will do anything and go fight if it doesn’t work.”

In Games 4 and 5, Boston is similar to a team that has played very well the first seven plus months of the season.

After shooting 29% from 3 points in Games 1-3, the Celtics have hit at least 40% in the last two games, including a 16-of-39 (41%) showing Thursday night. Boston is now 38-2 this season when hitting at least 40% of his 3-pointers; it’s 29-31 when it’s not.

Turnover is also key again. The Celtics forced 16 Heat substitutions in Game 4, turning it into 27 points. In Game 5, they forced … 16 Heat turnover which is 27 points.

And their scores are even. For the first time all season (regular season or playoffs), the Celtics had four players finish with at least 20 points — Derrick White (24), Marcus Smart (23), Tatum and Brown.

“I think we were consistently good looking today,” said White. “[We were] can go out and run, make extra passes, and when you look like that with the shooters we have we’ll make them more than miss.

“Just go on with that extra feed and find the right people.”

Boston has been on a roller coaster of emotions for several weeks; it has won or lost straight over its past 11 games, since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers on May 3.

The Celtics are also continuing a potentially history-making path. Only three teams have forced a Game 7 after losing 3-0: the New York Knicks against the Rochester Royals in 1991; Denver Nuggets against Utah Jazz in 1994; and the Portland Trail Blazers against the Dallas Mavericks in 2003.

Boston is now 48 minutes away from finishing fourth.

And while the Celtics have struggled at the Garden the last two years in the playoffs (11-11), they’ve become a completely different team away from home. Including their Game 4 win, the Celtics are on a 13-7 road since the start of the 2022 playoffs, and have won four straight road elimination games.

They will be looking to make it five with a win in Miami on Saturday.

“It’s going to take everything,” said Brown. “It’s going to be a dogfight. I imagine those guys are going to play better than they played tonight, and they’re going to be aggressive.

“We have to be ready to take their beating at home. We have to be ready to be tough and go out and do what we have to do.”

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