Tim BontempsESPNMay 24, 2023, 12:45 am ETRead 4 minutes

MIAMI — Ahead of Tuesday morning’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, Marcus Smart had a message for the Miami Heat.

“Don’t let us get one,” said Smart. “Just don’t let us get one.”

It was a statement when the Celtics entered Game 4 with a 3-0 deficit in this seven game series – a deficit that 150 teams in NBA history have faced and none of them have. Successfully returned.

But a few hours later, Smart and the Celtics followed through with a 116-99 win over Miami to send the series to Boston in Game 5. Thursday, the Celtics are now three more wins away from making history. .

“Now we just have to get another win,” Smart said after finishing with 11 points and 6 rebounds in 35 minutes. That’s all that matters. We take it one game at a time. We understand that the odds are stacked against us, but no matter what, we are a team that believes in us, and we have to keep going, and all that matters is the next game.

Boston found itself in a 3-0 hole in Game 4 because it couldn’t survive negative situations repeatedly. The Celtics fell short in Games 1 and 2, then were ousted in Game 3 by Cassia.

But Game 4 was a completely different story. Boston was down nine late in the first quarter after a Caleb Martin 3-pointer. The Celtics were down by nine after a Max Struss 3-pointer 90 seconds into the second half. And then, after the Celtics missed their first four shots and committed three fouls with 2:19 left in the fourth quarter, coach Joe Mazzula called a quick timeout with Boston leading 88-83 and the game on a knife’s edge.

But in each of these situations, the Celtics responded. They went on a 17-5 run after Martin’s triple to take the lead early in the second quarter. Boston went on an 18-0 run just over four minutes into the third after Struss’ 3-pointer. And, after Mazula’s timeout early in the fourth, Boston got a Jayson Tatum basket on the ensuing play — Tatum’s first fourth-quarter field goal of the series — to start a 12-0 run that ended the game. Good.

“I think that satisfaction, that trust in each other, that connection that I think in game time no matter what the game is, that stuff never went away,” Mazzula said. “Listen, when the stakes are high and you’re trying to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s easy to lose those things because guys play as hard as they can.

“I thought no matter the outcome, the people stuck together.”

Part of the reason Boston was able to stick together, according to Jaylen Brown, was the team’s team discussion Monday after a shocking Game 3 blowout to send the Celtics to the brink of elimination. .

“You get together and talk and talk,” Brown said. “And like a lot of times when you’re down 3-0 at this stage, you see locker rooms and teams start going in different directions. We want to make sure we stay together. We want to make sure we look. We came out today and put our best foot forward and put teams on the wall. I’m proud of you for making our team because you see them stand up and fall down.

“You didn’t see that tonight. You saw us come together and play defense, make the right plays, and I think that shows a lot about our character, especially in a game where everything was on the line and everything went wrong. In the last two games.”

It didn’t hurt that the Celtics — and Tatum in particular — missed some shots. Boston enters this game 31-for-106 (29.2%) from 3-point range through the first three games, compared to 44-for-92 (47.8%) from Miami.

“I still think we can shoot the ball better,” said Brown, who had 16 points and again struggled from deep, going 1-for-5 from behind the arc. “I think I had some good shots that didn’t go in, but the next game tomorrow is a new game. As we continue to build confidence, I think we’ll see more balls go in the net.” We feel good about ourselves. “

Tatum, meanwhile, went 11-for-15 from the field in the second half and scored 25 points, having eight points and four turnovers in the first half.

Tatum had 14 of Boston’s 38 points in the third, helping the Celtics outscore the Heat 38-23 in the frame to cut a six-point halftime deficit to nine points. Then, after a fourth-quarter timeout, he returned to the game with an elbow jumper to kick off a Boston run.

“They were playing the zone, and we really struggled with the zone the first couple of plays,” Temmu said of Miami’s defense early in the fourth quarter. “So it made us stop that much,” Bench said. “So when I came back in, he made a play to make a little movement, find open space and then make the right play.”

Now, as this series returns to Boston, the Celtics have at least taken the first step toward making history.

The next one will require another 48 minutes in Boston on Thursday.

“We want to get back to Miami,” Brown said.

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