At Least They Haven’t Been Relegated. Yet.

Yeah.  I’m upset.  Any Heat fan, or any Celtic despiser, would be.  You don’t necessarily need me to tell you what happened in South Beach last night, but in case you were out enjoying life’s Conor Roche can:

Somehow, someway, the Celtics have forced a Game 7.

After trailing 3-0 in the series, the Celtics won their third in a row on Saturday.

But it didn’t come without drama.

The Celtics blew the nine-point lead they had with just over three minutes left when Jimmy Butler made three free throws with three seconds left to give the Heat a 103-102 lead.

Following a timeout to move the ball into the frontcourt, the Celtics appeared to try to get the ball to Jayson Tatum. However, the Heat disrupted that, so Derrick White sent the inbounds pass to Marcus Smart, who immediately took a turnaround 3-pointer.

Smart’s shot didn’t go in, but because he took the shot so quickly, there was still time left on the clock. That allowed White to run in and get the offensive rebound and tip the ball in right at the buzzer to give the Celtics the win.

Yes, theoretically the Heat will still be alive when Game 7 tips off tomorrow night in Boston.  But this is all too familiar a script.  Forget the 2004 Yankees.  The Heat now more closely resemble the 1986 California Angels, who were within one strike of their first American League pennant before Dave Henderson hit a game-tying homer off closer Donnie Moore.  The Angels actually had a chance to win in extra innings, but the Red Sox still prevailed.  By the time they went back to Boston, still with two chances to win the pennant, it was academic.  The Boston crowd and momentum propelled the Sox to the World Series and screwed up my hopes to see the Mets in a World Series in Southern California.  I’m sure plenty of Angels fans believe Bill Buckner was karma, and they already knew all too well how mediocre a manager John McNamara was.

And this is now two consecutive years where the Celtics have gone into Miami for a road game with a chance for the hometown fans to celebrate a real trip to the Finals–not a bubble appeareance in front of video screems a few hundred miles north–and ripped their collective hearts out.  In this case, in a way more emotional way.  The Angels never really recovered.  It’s nearly impossible for me to believe the Heat could.

But in the NBA, even the most emotionally crushing loss doesn’t cost you your place in the league.  That could happen this morning to the Everton soccer team, who currently sit in 17th place in the Premier League as the season concludes as it always does with Relegation Sunday.  And as the Associated Press’ Joe Reedy reports, they will be front and center as they attempt to avoid the sport’s ultimate shame:

NBC’s studio crew and top announcer team will be at Goodison Park for Everton’s match against Bournemouth. Everton has 33 points, two points clear of the relegation zone, but could find itself out of England’s top division for the first time in nearly 70 years with a loss and a victory by either Leicester City or Leeds United. Everton could be relegated with a draw and a win by Leicester City, which won the 2016 title.

Not only is there the ignominy of being effectively dropped down to the equivalent of Triple A, but there’s significant financial implications.  More than $100 million in broadcast rights fees will be lost, harshly impacting the team’s ability to pursue and maintain top talent.  A “yo-yo” team such as Everton’s Bournemouth opponent rarely can find their way out of mediocrity, as their inconsistent financing and possibility they will play on a much smaller scale makes playing for them a much less attractive proposition.

The Heat will suffer no such financial loss.  They still play in Miami, after all.  Florida’s tax laws still benefit people who earn what NBA players do.  I do believe more loyal fans will continue to root, albeit with heavier hearts.

But I also know plenty of Florida beauties are front-runners.  And there’s a team in the adjacent county, an I-95 express lane away, who DID figure out a way to win a deciding Game 7 against a superior team in Boston, and who DID finally clinch a trip to the finals at home.  And they WILL be playing in June, against either a Vegas Golden Knights or a Dallas Stars team that also staved off elimination for the second consecutive game facing an 0-3 deficit with a 4-2 win on the Strip last night.

The Heat?  While Jimmy Buckets redeemed himself a notch with a couple of clutch fourth quarter scores, including the three free throws to give the Heat their lead in the closing seconds, he and Bam Adebayo combined to shoot 9-for-36.  This after Buckets channeled the Rangers’ Mark Messier and assured fans they WOULD win Game 6.

So unless the Celtics somehow choke under the pressure the way the three other NBA teams that forced a seventh game after falling 0-3 did (all on the road, by the way), both Butler and his team will be susceptible to losing something perhaps even more precious than revenue.  Loyalty.

Not from me, to be sure.  But you never know who (or what) might be inclined to discover a new sport.


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