I’m hardly a Red Sox fan, but I do love underdogs, and I adore Drew Barrymore. So for me the movie FEVER PITCH, which retells a love story of both team and life partner originally produced in England about Nick Hornby’s love for his football team with the American filter of the Sox’s improbable 2004 World Series win, is a rewatachable. It’s a resonant storyline about how when you’re literally down to your last gasp, against exorbitant odds, you can prevail and prosper. And in the case of these Sox, the very idea of a team rallying from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game series was a way better script than any Hollywood scribe could pen. Such a comeback had never happened before in the history of major league baseball. And it’s yet to ever happen in the history of the NBA.
Because as of this morning another team from Boston that at the beginning of the week were deep in an 0-3 hole in a pre-championship final series, the Boston Celtics, are very much alive and kicking, much like a Rockette or Lionel Messi, having closed the gap with the Miami Heat to 2-3 with a resounding 110-97 victory on their home parquet court last night that was a lot less close than that final score would otherwise indicate.
And, sure enough, sportswriters’ obsession with underdogs has now made the Celtics America’s team, and the stories touting how possible a historic comeback might be by the time this holiday weekend ends can be, As CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn wrote this morning, it not only seems possible, it could be construed as inevitable:
Believe or not, the hard part is already done for the Boston Celtics. In NBA history, 150 teams have built a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series. Of those 150 teams, 136 went on to win their matchups in five games or less. That means that more than 90% of teams facing 3-0 deficits before the 2023 Eastern Conference finals got knocked out faster than the Celtics have. Historically speaking, teams trailing 3-0 almost never make it to 3-2.
But 3-2 deficits are nothing new to the Celtics. They overcame one last round against the Philadelphia 76ers. They did so a year ago against the Milwaukee Bucks. A 3-0 deficit is NBA history, but a 3-2 deficit is par for the NBA course. In all of NBA history, there have been 342 series in which one team trailed 3-2, and 55 of those teams went on to win the series. That’s a win-rate of 16.1%. Not a big number by any means, but not the 0% historical fact of the deficit Boston faced just four days ago. Vegas gives Boston a much better shot than 16.1%. At Caesar’s Sportsbook, the Celtics current have a plus-118 line to win the series. Those are implied odds of 45.87%.
And the same Vegas pundits have installed the Celtics a 2.5 point favorite in Saturday night’s Game 6. The one the Heat will play on their home court near South Beach. Where, frankly, they will face the most defining game of their history.
There is quite a bit of America that hates the Heat and Heat Culture, still seething from the seemingly bought era of back-to-back championships that Lebron and his posse brought when he took his talents to South Beach in the 2010s. This Heat team is on paper an underdog of even greater proportions that are the Celtics of the moment, an eight seed that has already knocked off the team that swept them out of the 2021 playoffs and swept a Knicks team that had tormented them in three consecutive 90s playoff series. And, at least until Wednesday night, was on pace to gain similar exclamation point-level revenge against a Celtics team that upset them in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals in Miami.
It’s possible that the Heat were so overcome with emotion and anticipation that Tuesday night’s home loss could have been considered an aberration. And they were missing sharpshooter Gabe Vincent last night, who joined Tyler Herro as a missing regular season starter. Vincent is expected back tomorrow night. And even the most biased Heat reporters, such as the SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL’s Dave Hyde, know that as a result, the margin for error and leeway for excuses is neglible for tomorrow night:
OK, there’s no such bright side. There’s no way to spin the Miami Heat’s 110-97 lopsided loss to Boston and come up with some way to make it smell better. The sky has fallen. The only question is if Heat Culture can gather itself for one last stand at home Saturday night in Game 6.
This is their Game 7. This is when we see if this talk of being resilient and overcoming adversity still fits. It’s also when we see how history will write up this series. “We can and we will win this series,” said a confident Jimmy Butler(.)
Jimmy Buckets doesn’t need to go very far to gain insight on how it may feel to be on the other side of history. The team that the 2004 Red Sox won four straight elimination games against, the New York Yankees, is well represented in the area. Alex Rodriguez grew up in the area. Derek Jeter was recently the GM of the Marlins and is just up the road in Tampa. Plenty of New York ex-pats who suffered through the ignominy of that experience are likely to be in the Kesera Center Saturday night. They all saw the Sox game by game, opportunity by opoortunity, claw their way back.
Jaysun Tatum and Derrick White are doing well enough already in the last two games. Heaven forbid Robert Williams III gets a bloody sock.
And, let’s face it. South Florida sports fans are amazingly attractive and adore winners, but they are front-runners. The Panthers are already into to their championship series, will host games in June playing for a title, and could easily pick up more than a few Heat Culture members if their team somehow makes ignominious history.
So be warned. Remember this image of a Boston team that already won a seven-game series by winning the last four.
And remember that while Fever Pitch scenes are cute, reviving Celtic Pride would elate fans who look like this.
You think South Beach will be rocking Saturday night with happy schmos like this?
So it’s on you, Miami. Make team history, not sports history.