The Celtics' postseason fate has shifted dramatically in just a matter of days. On Sunday, the team was down 3-0 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. But after two straight wins, including a 110-97 victory last night at the Garden, Boston is still in it, forcing a game six tomorrow night in Miami. GBH's Esteban Bustillos has been covering the Celtics playoff run and was at last night's game. He joined GBH's Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston to talk about it. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Paris Alston: So full transparency, I caught a little bit of the game last night, the first quarter. I did stay up past bedtime to watch, but it was worth it because they were doing really well. So what made the difference last night?
Esteban Bustillos: I think that was probably the most important quarter to watch. They got hot, they outscored Miami 35 to 20 in that first quarter after playing solid defense, forcing Miami to cough up the ball and working the ball around the court to get good shots. The rest of the game was comparatively close, score-wise, quarter by quarter. But the hole Boston dug for Miami early on was just too big for the Heat to climb out of, and Boston was too consistent to allow the Heat to come back.
Alston: So how did the C's get themselves into this hole in the first place? I mean, you mentioned how consistent they were. Where was that at the beginning of the series?
Bustillos: I think that's the question everybody's trying to ask and trying to figure out. I mean, Boston just wasn't very playing very good basketball. They weren't hitting outside shots, not playing good defense, not taking care of the ball on offense. It all added up. After last night's game, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said one of the assistants had great perspective on the whole situation.
Joe Mazzulla [previously recorded]: The season's like nine months long and we just had a bad week. Sometimes you have a bad week at work and you know, we obviously didn't pick the best time to have a bad week, but we did and we're sticking together and fight like hell, keep it alive. And the guys are really coming together.
Alston: I mean, it can be easy to forget that professional athletes are just people doing their jobs, and they have bad weeks too. So how are the players feeling now?
Bustillos: I would say quietly confident, and they're starting to express their confidence more. It helps that the Celtics have been in a tight spot several times over the course of the playoffs in the past few years. Just looking back at last year's playoffs, in the run up to the finals, they faced multiple elimination games. Jayson Tatum, who had 21 points last night, said you can see the true character of a team when things aren't going well.
Jayson Tatum [previously recorded]: It's unlike any team I've been on. This year and last year, you know, the core group of guys being able to respond. And I think that's just attests to our togetherness, how bad we want it.
"They're starting to express their confidence more."-Esteban Bustillos, GBH News
Alston: Yeah. And this is certainly a special team when we consider who's on the floor at any given time. And Esteban, there has been some talk comparing this team to the 2004 Red Sox, who famously came back from an 0-3 hole to beat the Yankees in the ALCS and then, of course, went on to break the curse of the Bambino, winning the World Series that year. We talked a little bit about this, especially about that Kevin Millar infamous comment, don't let us win this game. I mean, do you see those parallels here?
Bustillos: Yes and no. First, I would say it's maybe people mixing up their carts and horses a little bit there. And it's it's an imperfect comparison, right? The Sox were legit underdogs as the fourth seed. The Celtics are the two seed playing the eighth seed. All of that said, if there is a calculus for an NBA team, try to come back from an 0-3 hold, the Celtics may be showing it. They've cleaned up their mistakes from the first three games and already depleted the Heat roster. They played without Gabe Vincent last night and he was averaging 17.5 points per game this series, and it's unclear how available he'll be going forward. And the Celtics have what most would say is just the more loaded roster. Most of the time a team gets down in a big hole because they're simply outmatched.
In this case, I would say Boston couldn't play enough consistent basketball, even though they were more favored coming in, and the Heat took advantage. They've shown they can outplay Miami if they can play with just as few mistakes as possible. Tellingly, before he left the podium last night, Jaylen Brown was specific about the future of the series.
Jaylen Brown [previously recorded]: It's a blessing to be able to play this game each and every night. It's a blessing to be in the playoffs. Highs, lows — there's moments where you are extremely excited. It's just it's amazing. So these next two games should be fine.
Bustillos: These next two games, not one game. So it's not exactly Joe Namath and making a guarantee for a win, but it shows the mindset of a team that I think truly sees itself hosting a Game Seven on Memorial Day.
Alston: That would certainly be a treat. And what about the view from Miami? I know Jimmy Butler has been talking smack, right? How is that team feeling?
Bustillos: Yeah, the last two games obviously didn't go their way, but if there's any group that can take some hits after giving them, it's Miami. Journalists like to talk about the idea of momentum from one game to the next, but that's something that Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra downplayed last night.
Erik Spoelstra [previously recorded]: One game doesn't lead to the next game. Based on all the experience that we've had, it doesn't matter in the playoffs. It doesn't matter if you lose by whatever, we beat them by whatever in Game Three. It just doesn't matter.
Bustillos: He said it's more about collectively preparing and putting together a great game. Miami's Jimmy Butler has been maybe the best player in these playoffs and his confidence was in tune as ever.
Jimmy Butler [previously recorded]: It's going to be all smiles. We're going to keep it very, very, very consistent knowing that we are going to win the next game.
Alston: So what do you think, Esteban? I mean, is he right? What happens from here?
Bustillos: I think I slightly favor Miami at home in Game Six.
Bustillos: But I'll say this: we have to see how available Gabe Vincent's going to be. We have to see how available Malcolm Brogdon is going to be for the Celtics. He left the game last night. Here's the thing: Boston shot 40% from the three-point line in game four and 41% from beyond the border last night. If they can do that, win the turnover battle again, and make life difficult for not just Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo from Miami, but all of the role players who have had a big role this series, this thing could be coming back to Boston for Game Seven on Monday.
Alston: I mean, we're certainly keeping our fingers crossed for that. But I think you're right. I mean, just a few days ago, I was telling Jeremy — it felt very ominous going into what would have been Game Four, just because at any moment the other shoe could drop. But we also know, as basketball goes, at any moment, any team can beat another team. It just depends.
Bustillos: Yeah. Surviving events.
Alston: That's what we certainly, certainly hope will happen. Well, game six is tomorrow night in Miami. Tip off is going to be 8:30 p.m.