The Boston Celtics knocking on the door of history. Three games to nil in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami heatcompleted their third consecutive victory on Saturday night as Derrick White threw a missed shot home to score a miraculous 104-103 victory.
The board has been cleared; a 3-0 lead turned into a 3-3 meaning it might as well be 0-0. Representative of the Eastern Conference in this year’s edition NBA finals will be decided on Monday night at TD Garden.
If you’ve watched these games, you’ve heard a lot about the importance of running a 3-0 series. For three games in a row, broadcasts take every opportunity to remind us of what’s at stake: no team in NBA history has lost three games to none and has come back to win that series. The Celtics are on the verge of not only the NBA Finals, but history itself. They can put their names next to an impossible achievement – something that no one else has ever done.
But the legacy at stake here goes deeper. NBA aside, you only need one hand to count the teams in the entire history of American sports to finish a 3-0 comeback and win the series. 2014 Kings of Los Angeles they are the newest enshrinees, beating Sharks from San Jose in the first round of NHL Playoffs. The NHL has three more players to contribute to this tally, including 1942 Maple leaves from Torontowho accomplished the feat in the Stanley Cup Finals over the Detroit Red Wings.
Journey into MLB history leads to an obvious figurehead, a team we’ll probably hear a lot about in the next few days: 2004 Boston Red Sox. Fellow hometown Celtics are the only MLB franchise to accomplish this feat, with only 2020 aside from them Tampa Bay rays they have ever been able to force a game 7 (MLB uses a five-game streak in its divisional round limiting game 7 opportunities).
First baseman and outfielder Kevin Millar told famed Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy prior to Game 4 of this series, “Don’t let us win tonight,” a refrain the Celtics have taken to heart in this series. Expect to see many familiar Red Sox faces at Game 7 on Monday.
Then we have the brave dead. The Celtics are the fourth NBA team to force Game 7 in this scenario, with the other three being from 2003. Portland Trail jackets1994 Denver Nuggets and 1951 New York Knicks – ultimately failed in the climactic game. Adding to that the NHL and MLB, the number of would-be 3-0 players who failed increases to nine. Among that list, you have the aforementioned 2020 Rays in the American League Championship Series (albeit in a neutral spot due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and the 1945 Red Wings, who almost turned the Maple Leafs script around in the Stanley Cup Finals, three years after the fact.
Adding up, that gives us 14 teams. Fourteen teams throughout the history of American professional sports that have stood where the Celtics stand now, wherever that may have taken them. This team hopes to achieve much more, true, but its place in history is already assured. Statistically speaking, a fan of a professional sports team could spend a lifetime without such achievements.
In a way, it feels good that the Celtics will be here. That’s what they do after all. Their road to championship was paved with moments like this; Game 7 against the Heat will be their 14th elimination game in the last four seasons, reaching the Disney bubble. Of those, they won 10, including four games 7 and a series of comebacks against Milwaukee dollars AND Philadelphia 76ers in the last two years.
These are the Cardiac Celtics, love them or hate them – sometimes maybe both. Just a year ago, ahead of Game 7 against the Miami Heat in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals, Derrick White provided the perfect summation: “I mean, we’re frustrated, but if it were easy, it wouldn’t be let’s not be us.”
More than anyone else, they have their backs against the wall, but they have found ways to survive all the adversity. If anything, the position in which we find them now is the natural culmination of all these experiences. They lag, they play inconsistently and frustratingly, we challenge them, they meet and they win.
So we’re standing here being the ultimate example. The Miami Heat, the team they’ve faced in three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals, once again stood in their way. Franchise superstar Jimmy Butler has once again changed the landscape NBA Playoffs, leading the lowly eight through shock victories over the top-seeded Bucks in the first round and the Knicks in the second. It’s a franchise with a core that knows how to win post-season, just like those Celtics, and they’re not going to tip over when their season is in jeopardy.
As for that, that’s the point. All the history, all the numbers and all the stories of bands that did it or didn’t – none of it matters. The past defines our expectations, but it cannot influence the future. That’s the beauty of Game 7. They’re the culmination of a long, hard-fought battle between two great teams, but the games that preceded them just don’t matter anymore. That’s an entire season in one game. Win or go home.
The Boston Celtics completed a comeback. They fended off three straight losses with three straight wins and earned the right to save all six of those matches in the past. Only 48 minutes of basketball left.
Win and make history.
Win and do the impossible.