Burning questions ahead of Celtics-Heat Game 7

Published May 29, 2023, 3:00 PMNBA.com Philippines Staff

The NBA.com Philippines crew gives a preview of the epic final showdown between the East Conference finalists.

The Boston Celtics have a shot at history as they look to become the first team to overcome a 0-3 deficit in the NBA Playoffs when they go up against the Miami Heat in Game 7. The last-second putback by Derrick White has given us a perfect setup for a winner-take-all final game. 

We gathered the NBA.com Philippines editorial team to break down the series that has surpassed expectations. 

Did you ever think we'd end up in Game 7?

Isaac Go: No, I did not. Game 7s are hard to force, especially after losing three straight. Give credit to Boston because most teams just fold and would rather go on vacation than prolong their season.

Yoyo Sarmenta: Absolutely not. After the Heat’s blowout win in Game 3, I thought the series and this Celtics’ core were done. I was thinking there would be a coaching change and trade talks in Boston. Credit to the mental toughness of the Celtics for roaring back. 

Polo Bustamante: The way Jimmy Butler and the Heat were dogging the Celtics in Game 3 made it seem like the series was done. Miami owned all the confidence and momentum in the series. It’s a minor miracle that the Celtics evened things out after that game.

Charmie Lising: Whoever says yes to this is lying. After Game 3, it looked like this series was bound to end in a sweep or at least a gentleman’s sweep. 

Migs Flores: The vibes were incredibly bad after Game 3 for Boston. The coach said he lost his team. There was absolutely no way the Red Sox… oh.

Jon Carlos Rodriguez: When Jimmy Butler trolled Al Horford with that now infamous timeout gesture, I was secretly hoping things would turn around and Boston would win three straight - just because of petty reasons. But Boston actually winning three straight with a chance to make history is beyond petty. It’s unfathomable.

JC Ansis: No one would have predicted that the Heat would go up 3-0. No one would have predicted that Derrick White would be at the right place at the right time. But here we are, right?

Patrick Rodil: After Game 3, I thought the series was done. After all the inconsistencies and the lack of mental toughness throughout the regular season, there was no way the Celtics could just “turn it up”. But hey, the Celtics took it one game at a time and slowly, the light at the end of the tunnel kept on getting brighter and brighter, and here we are. If anyone can make history, why can’t it be the Boston Celtics?

How do you recover from the Derrick White shot if you're the Heat? 

IG: Coach Spo said it best. Sometimes, you cover everything and you do everything right, but it doesn’t go your way. You just have to lock in. After three straight outings of not getting the breaks of the game, you have to think they’ll be in your favor now. Just focus on what you can control and leave it all out there.

YS: It’s one thing to have the series tied at 3-3 but it’s another thing to have it done in such heartbreaking fashion if you’re the Heat. The Heat have been a resilient group all year long and this is their greatest challenge yet. The leaders of the group have to steady the ship heading into Boston. 

PB: Mentally and emotionally, the Celtics have the edge over the Heat. Miami kind of blew their best chance to end the series. What the Heat need to fall back on is the fact that they’ve won in Boston before. Twice, in fact. Now they just need to do it one last time to advance to the Finals.

CL: There’s no recovering from that. That shot will be immortalized in NBA lore regardless of the outcome of Game 7. The only thing the Heat can do is pretend that nightmare did not happen (easier said than done) and remain hyper-focused on the do-or-die game in Boston.

MF: Season 1 of Ted Lasso, final season of Friday Night Lights, the original Longest Yard, Remember The Titans; just watch things that will get you to believe again.

JR: Is Big Face Coffee still a thing? If it is, the Heat don’t need it. Derrick White’s shot, regardless of Game 7’s outcome, will give the franchise sleepless nights for years to come. How do you recover from generational trauma? No one knows.

JA: You recover by winning Game 7! The Heat haven’t been themselves lately - it’s time for them to find that confidence and grit that brought them to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

PR: If you’re the Heat, all you can think about is the next game. Make the proper adjustments and trust in the culture and team that you built. If you think about it, Jimmy and Bam both had an atrocious game, yet they only lost by 1 point. Duncan Robinson missed two wide-open 3-pointers, just one of those going in and it would’ve been over.

What has been the biggest key for the Celtics' last three wins?

IG: Adjustments by coach Mazzulla – opting to go smaller, removing Time Lord (Robert Williams III) from the rotation, and going with Grant Williams allows for more switching and spacing. The Celtics also have been sharing the ball more, which is leading to more open shots without necessarily increasing their assists total.

YS: The Celtics have been more purposeful on both ends. The Heat have a dynamic and stingy zone defense and the C’s have done a better job at attacking it with precision. On the other end, they have been equally more decisive with their switching and recovery against Jimmy Butler who has been hunting players on mismatches. 

PB: Jayson Tatum can get buckets. Even when they were losing, he was still a high-scoring machine. But in the last three games, he’s done a lot of extra work to help his team win. He’s taken on the challenge of defending Jimmy Butler, created opportunities through his passing, and helped out on the boards.

CL: The Celtics seemed to suffer a defensive identity crisis in the first three games. Desperate to save their season, they fixed the crisis just in time. 

MF: It's crazy how much of today's genre of basketball relies so heavily on making 3s. For the first three games of the series, the Heat hit more than 40 percent of their 3-pointers while the Celtics couldn't even reach the 30 percent mark. The script has been flipped over the last three games. The smaller lineups have worked wonders for Boston in both defending and making 3-pointers that it's hard to see them going away from it in Game 7.

JR: Trying to think hard for a technical response to this, but Derrick White’s face kept popping in my head each time I blink.

JA: The Celtics activated their Airtag and finally found their defense. Oh, and Marcus Smart started putting the ball in the hoop.

PR: Defense has been the game-changer for the Celtics by a mile. They’ve FINALLY tightened their defense, looking like the defensive team of last year’s Celtics. Switching their defense and putting multiple bodies on Jimmy to slow him down. I’ll give my flowers to Coach Joe Mazzula as well. Everyone wanted him gone by Game 3, but he took it upon himself to be better and to get the guys ready. His recent timeout calls have been phenomenal, and even his lineup changes and substitutions have been spot-on. 

Who will be the X-Factor for Game 7?

IG: It has to be a battle of the stars: JT vs JB. They will be each other's primary matchup and expect that the result of the game will depend highly on their production. 

YS: Caleb Martin has been Miami’s most consistent player. If you’re the Heat, you’re leaning on Martin to have another signature game on the road. If you’re the Celtics, you want to stop Martin from having a big outing. 

PB: As ridiculous as this sounds, it has to be Bam Adebayo. They need the Game 2 version of him where he was a beast in the paint and in his words, a “phenomenal passer.” In the past three losses, he’s been neither and it’s cost the Heat several chances to eliminate the Celtics.

CL: Bam Adebayo needs to show up for the Heat to avoid a disastrous end to their season.

MF: Game 7s are usually about star power, especially in this postseason. But how crazy would it be if we get another Derrick White game? Is Duncan Robinson really about to redeem himself after the two-year hibernation he went through?

JR: All momentum is in Boston’s favor and it will be up to someone else not named Jimmy Butler for Miami to own Game 7. Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo, and Duncan Robinson - it’s their shot to take now.

JA: Maybe the Heat need another scolding from Udonis Haslem. It would be nice to see another scoring outburst from Gabe Vincent. Or seven 3s from Kevin Love. At this point, I really don’t know.

PR: For the Heat, it’s definitely Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent. They have been playing amazing this series and without those two, you could argue they wouldn’t have made it out the first round against the Bucks. 

For Boston, it’s literally the whole team. After watching them the whole season, they are an INCONSISTENT team. Mentally, they’re definitely not up there with the Heat. They can play like the best team in the NBA for two quarters, only to have a mental collapse and lose it all in the final minutes of the game. The team needs to be better. There is no margin of error. I don’t need to see Tatum or Brown drop 80 points between them. I need to see them push the pace and move the ball. I need to see the team crash the boards and get back on D. They need to grind it out.

Who has more to lose: Miami or Boston? 

IG:  It has to be Miami. If you asked me earlier in the series, it would have been Boston. The Celtics have the best player in the series, the higher seed, plus they made the Finals last year. But the tides have turned. If Boston losses, they’ll just be another team that failed to come back from down 3-0. If Miami loses, they become the first team in NBA history to lose a 3-0 advantage.

YS: Entering this series, the Celtics already have more to lose given their higher seed and the fact that they’ve been to the Finals the year before. The tables have shifted as the Heat might become the first team to surrender a 0-3 lead. How will this affect the legacies of Jimmy, Bam, and even Erik Spoelstra? 

PB: It’s still the Celtics. Everyone has to remember that the Heat aren’t even supposed to be here. They’re a play-in team that was a loss away from being eliminated. It would infinitely suck for Boston to get this close to completing history, only to fumble in the end.

CL: It started with the Celtics having more to lose, but if the Heat end up losing this after a 3-0 lead? That’s gonna be an eternity of embarrassment for the franchise.

MF: This only becomes a 30 for 30 if Miami loses. I understand the Heat were the No. 8 seed and that no team seeded last in the postseason has ever made it to the Finals. But there's no recovering your legacy from losing a 3-0 series lead. We still talk about the 3-1 Warriors.

JR: Imagine being part of a documentary where the plot revolves around a gritty, underdog team making an inspiring run for the championship, but instead of being the gritty, underdog team, you’re the highly favored, higher-seeded team who somehow blew it when it mattered the most. That’s what the Celtics are facing.

JA: Boston, for sure. After the Bucks and Sixers got knocked out, everyone expected the Celtics to cruise to the NBA Finals.

PR: I feel like it’s the Celtics. On paper, the Celtics have a way better roster than the Heat and have been the favorites for probably 90% of the series. If the Heat lose, yeah they’re the first team to lose 3-0, but no one expected them to beat the Bucks and make it all the way to the ECF. And that’s going to be the chatter if the Heat lose. Give kudos to the team, they’re fighters and nobody expected them to end up where they did. The Celtics, on the other hand, were the clear favorites to come out of the East once the Bucks fell in the first round. We all thought this series was probably gonna go six games max in favor of the Celtics. How embarrassing would it be to lose Game 7, in your home court, with all your fans watching, with all that you did to try to claw your way back and make history, for nothing? 

Who will win Game 7?

IG: I got the Miami Heat. There’s a reason why no team has come back down 3-0. It’s hard. It’s fatiguing. It’s mentally tough. I also think that the luck of the Irish has to eventually run out. Game 7 is a grind and I believe that Miami is better built for this.

YS: Even though the Celtics have been inconsistent at the TD Garden, homecourt advantage is still an advantage. You can get a Grant Williams third-quarter spurt or a Derrick White 20-point performance. The Heat have no margin for error in a hostile environment. I have Boston winning by double digits. 

PB: The Celtics have finally figured out that their talent combined with a more concerted effort on both ends almost always results in a win. It’s tough to bet against Butler since he’s always brimming with confidence, but the Heat are running on empty. They’ve used up all their ammo to get the three wins they currently have and probably won’t get win number four.

CL: The momentum (and homecourt advantage) is definitely on the Celtics’ side, but I refuse to believe they can pull off the improbable. I’d much rather believe Coach Spo and Jimmy Butler can still save the Heat from being on the wrong side of history. 

MF: There would be much more chaos if the Heat win Game 7. Watching Jimmy Butler in this postseason has made following his frustrating regular season worth it. I want to believe he has one more big game left in him. Erik Spoelstra has to have one more swerve left in his book of tricks. He doesn't have to do something straight outta (Alex) Compton* and call a bunch of timeouts early, but Spoelstra should still have something to cook for Game 7. 

JR: If there’s a Miami Heat fan in your proximity, hug them now and hug them tight. This one’s going to hurt badly.

JA: Yeah, the game is in Boston and the Celtics have all the momentum, but I’m going against the grain. I believe in you, Coach Spo!

PR: As a Celtics fan, all I can do is believe in the Celtics. I don’t think home-court advantage really does anything since they have been HORRIBLE at home. But the Celtics have always managed to close games out – Game 7 Grant last year against the Bucks, Game 7 this year against Philly. There are lots of things to be optimistic about, but the Celtics’ inconsistency will always be at the back of my mind. The Heat will be ready, and I know the Celtics will be too. TD Garden, let’s go!

*Editor’s note: The San Miguel Beermen became the first PBA team to recover from a 0-3 series deficit in 2016, defeating the Alaska Aces coached by Alex Compton.