It’s been 31 days since the Boston Celtics have won a home game, but inside the NBA bubble, where everyone is roommates, that doesn’t matter. Because after they beat the Miami Heat 117-106 Saturday night, it’s been 46 days since the Celtics have lost on the road.
The randomness of that stat might best illustrate the psychological shifts in these playoffs, where 2-0 deficits don’t come with plane rides to South Beach or with regret of blowing two chances to win in front of your home crowd.
Here, all you need to do is have one good night, put together one good effort and momentum in a series can swing violently. Just ask the Clippers.
But for the people involved, the players and the coaches, “It feels like the playoffs,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s hard. It’s tiring. It’s tough.”
Even though the Celtics nearly coughed up a 19-point lead in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter, Boston regrouped and held on, solving the Miami zone and moving one step closer to evening the Eastern Conference finals.
Jaylen Brown, one of the players involved in a postgame blowup Thursday, led Boston with 26 points. Three other starters — Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart — scored at least 20 each.
“I just had to get back to doing what I do best,” Brown said. “And what I do best is get to the basket.”
Gordon Hayward, who has been out since Aug. 17 with an injured ankle, returned and played 31 minutes off the bench — more than Stevens expected — helping settle the Celtics while the Heat made a final push.
“He’s a stabilizing force for our team,” Stevens said.
The on-court performance from Boston on Saturday — holding the Heat to 38.8% shooting from the field and 27.3% from three-point range while limiting the red-hot Goran Dragic to just two of 10 and 11 points — was its best of the series. And that it came after significant off-court drama made it even better.
“It was just about honing and focusing,” Brown said. “A lot of great guys in that locker room. A lot of emotion and lot of passion. But we’re a family and we’re for here for each other.”
After a second-half collapse Thursday in Game 2, Celtics players could be heard arguing in their locker room after the game, the frustration loud enough to push through the door and spill over into the hallways.
Brown said the frustration was probably blown out of proportion, the kind of thing that can happen in the bubble, where things can just sort of fester.
In the 48 hours since, the team had to reconvene and refocus, eventually proving to Stevens what he had hoped was true.
“It just took a bunch of good people committed to each other,” Stevens said. “There’s no special talks, no special things, no rah-rah things. It’s who you have in the locker room and are they committed. … I was curious to see what would happen tonight, but I didn’t have much doubt.”
The Celtics took the court Saturday with more force, with better execution and a better result. Still, there was no satisfaction.
“We’ve got to win four of them,” Tatum said.
And it’ll have to happen whether they’re home or away, even if it’s in the same building.