When Boston used a 60-point outburst by Jayson Tatum to complete a 32-point comeback against the San Antonio Spurs on April 30, it felt like a season-saving win in terms of trying to avoid the Play-In Tournament.
With two marquee games quickly approaching against the Miami Heat, which had the season-series tiebreaker and the No. 6 seed in the East on the line, who would have guessed the Celtics would once again be trailing by well over 20 points on their home floor?
Anyone who has been paying attention to Boston as of late, really.
The Celtics have grown accustomed to playing from behind. Since that miracle victory over the Spurs, they trailed the Portland Trail Blazers by double figures before a comeback came up just short. In their next loss to the Chicago Bulls - a costly one, at that - they also trailed by double figures before another comeback came up short.
Now putting themselves at a one-game deficit of avoiding the Play-In Tournament heading into this crucial double-header against Miami, in dire need of a win to tie up the season series heading into their second contest, Boston found itself in a familiar position, trailing by as much as 26 points in the contest.
Without Jaylen Brown, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, and Robert Williams, who made his return in the first half but missed the second half due to the same turf toe injury, the shorthanded Celtics tried to once again flip the switch.
And for the third time in a week, their late efforts came up short to no avail.
The Heat punished the Celtics from the perimeter, something we saw very clearly during last year's Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Miami knocked down 45.7 percent of its 3s (16-35 3FG) behind a blistering 6-for-10 shooting from marksmen Duncan Robinson.
No amount of hands were stopping Duncan today- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 9, 2021
22 Pts / 6 👌's pic.twitter.com/NiE55bakNX
Superstar forward Jimmy Butler elevated his game as he so often does for the big ones, going for 26 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and two steals. Bam Adebayo continued his recurring dominance against the Celtics' interior, going for 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals while shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and 10-for-11 from the free throw line.
💥 @Bam1of1 dropped 20 pts without missing a field goal. . . pic.twitter.com/loZQypMCcc- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 9, 2021
Although Evan Fournier had his best game yet in Boston, going for 30 points and eight assists, and Jayson Tatum dropped 29 points on an efficient 11-for-16 shooting from the field, the Celtics didn't have enough in the tank to come all the way back.
With the win, the Heat take the season-series tiebreaker against Boston while also gaining a two-game lead for the No. 6 seed in the East. With another matchup approaching quickly on Tuesday, and only four games remaining in the season, Miami will have a chance to put what could be the final nail in the coffin on the Celtics' hopes of reaching a top-six seed.
If the Celtics were to pull off a win and bring the deficit for the No. 6 seed back to within one game, here's how each team's schedule would shape up over the final three games of the season.
|Celtics' remaining schedule||Heat's remaining schedule|
|Tues., May 11||vs. Heat||Tues., May 11||at Celtics|
|Wed., May 12||at Cavaliers||Thurs., May 13||vs. 76ers|
|Sat., May 15||at Timberwolves||Sat., May 15||at Bucks|
|Sun., May 16||at Knicks||Sun., May 16||at Pistons|
As you can see, Boston's remaining schedule is much more favourable than Miami's, who still have two matchups against top-three teams in the East remaining.
According to FiveThirtyEight's NBA predictions model, Sunday's loss just might send the Celtics to the Play-In Tournament. The model projects the Heat to finish one game ahead of Boston, securing the final spot outside of the Play-In Tournament with the Atlanta Hawks landing the No. 4 seed and the New York Knicks landing the No. 5 seed.
And while models and projections aren't always perfect, this loss has the feeling of a Play-In Tournament stamp for the Celtics, also surrendering the tiebreaker against the Heat.
Can Boston defy the odds and still work its way into a top six seed? It would have to start with a win over Miami on Tuesday.
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