When the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals started, many had the Boston Celtics winning the series against the Miami Heat. ESPN Analytics gave the Celtics a 97% chance to advance to the NBA Finals in comparison to a 3% chance for Miami. Three games into the series, Miami was up 3-0. Even down 3-0 and looking like they could be swept, Boston was given over a 70% chance to advance. Since then, Boston has won games 4 and 5, with a pivotal Game 6 matchup in Miami on Saturday. Now down 3-2, could Boston achieve the impossible? NBA History suggests they will not.
In 150 series where one team has led 3-0, 61% of those series have ended in a sweep, 29% ended in five games, 7% ended in six games, and 2% ended in seven games. The first two games of the series were closer, with Game 1 being decided by seven points and Game 2 being decided by seven points. Game 3 saw Miami blow out Boston, leading by 30 points at the end of the third quarter and eventually winning by 26. Much of the basketball world from media outlets to basketball legends criticized the Celtics for quitting in Game 3.
Game 4 saw a shift from the Celtics as their backs were against the wall. After a horrendous Game 3 performance, Jayson Tatum finished with 33, scoring 11 points in the fourth after struggling to score in the fourth quarter in the last few games. A key for Boston in the last two games has been their three-point shooting. In the first three games, Boston has shot under 35%. In the last two games, they have upped their three-point shooting to over 40%. Nearly doubling Miami’s three-point shooting, Boston was able to stretch out their lead early and maintain it for the rest of Game 5. While their bench did not contribute much in Game 5, Boston’s starters combined for 95 points, with four of the starters scoring 20 or more.
For Miami, their last two games have been far from the first three of the series. In Game 4, Jimmy Butler was one of the few players who showed up for Miami. Finishing with 29 points, he was the only Heat player to score over 20 points. Bam Adebayo finished with 10 points. Gabe Vincent, who finished with a career playoff high 29 points in Game 3, finished with 17 points. Duncan Robinson went from 22 points in Game 3 to just two points in Game 4. Game 5 saw a bigger drop-off from the Heat. No one from Miami scored 20 or more points, with Duncan Robinson leading all Heat players with 18 points off the bench. Jimmy Butler finished with 14 points on 5-10 shooting. Max Strus only finished with three points after having a strong playoff run thus far. The team was also missing Gabe Vincent after he sprained his ankle in Game 4, leading to Kyle Lowry starting in his place. Lowry would finish with five points in 30 minutes.
Looking at Game 6 in Miami, there are a lot of questions for both teams. For Miami, the biggest question is whether they will return to the form everyone saw from Games 1-3. Gabe Vincent’s status is currently unknown for Game 6 as he recovers from his ankle sprain. Kyle Lowry did not look like himself in Game 5, grabbing his neck at several points. Caleb Martin nearly had a scary-looking leg injury in Game 5 as well. And Miami still does not know when Tyler Herro will be able to return. Just being cleared for on-court activities, he has not been cleared for contact yet. For Boston, the main question being asked is if they can keep their momentum going. Multiple Boston players told to media that Miami couldn’t let them get one. They’ve gotten two since then. Strong performances from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the rest of Boston’s core have elevated them above Miami the last two games, forcing a Game 6. There are also questions about if Malcolm Brogdon will play Game 6, with it just being revealed that he has been playing with a partially torn tendon in his arm.
On Saturday night, Game 6 will be one of the most important nights of the 2023 NBA playoffs. For Miami, Game 6 is truly Game 7. If they can’t win on their home court, they’re not going to be able to win Game 7. For Boston, a Game 6 win would move them closer to doing the impossible. While history says it will not happen, crazier things have happened in the NBA. If Boston wins Game 6 in Miami after being down 3-0, coming back to win the series 4-3 is completely on the table and would give them the chance to be the first time in NBA history to win a series after being down 3-0, the chance to be the 1 in 150-1.