In the study of behavioral finance, there’s a phenomenon known as extrapolation bias, more commonly referred to as recency bias, which causes people, by nature, to overweight recent events when making forward decisions. It was one of the main culprits in the 2008 housing market crash.
In essence, people are hardwired to believe that whatever is currently happening will continue to happen into the future. Home values going up every day? That bubble won’t burst. The Celtics have won the previous three games of the Eastern Conference finals? Surely they’re going to win again on Monday.
Jimmy Butler begs to differ.
“When we huddle up after the game, after a tough loss like this one, everybody is smiling because we know we’re very capable of it, I’m telling you, and we are not going to let up,” Butler told reporters after the Game 6 loss on Saturday. “I’m not going to let anybody quit. I’m not going to let our guys quit. I don’t give a damn what happens. We’re going to go [into Boston] and we’re going to win.”
Butler said the same thing before Game 6, but again, don’t be fooled by your recency bias. Don’t forget Butler’s postseason because a couple of bad games are fresh in your mind. In last year’s Eastern Conference finals, Butler went for six points on 3-of-14 shooting in Game 4, followed that up with 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting in Game 5 as the Heat fell down 3-2. It would’ve been easy to think he and the Heat were out of gas then, too.
Instead, with the season on the line, Butler went for 47 in Game 6 in Boston to force a Game 7 back home in Miami, where Boston rebounded with a road win to advance to the NBA Finals. Why can’t the Heat do the same thing on Monday?
And don’t say it’s because of what you’ve seen the last three games. We’ve been over this. It’s a trick that your mind plays on you. Game 7 is going to be its own kind of basketball war. It won’t be about schematics or the adjustments we all love to talk about, and it certainly won’t be about what happened in Game 6.
This has all the makings of a close game with five minutes to play. If you don’t think Butler is going to be an animal in that situation, you must’ve just started watching. You must’ve already forgotten the 15 points he scored in the fourth quarter on Saturday, including three ice-cold free throws that would’ve sent the Heat to the Finals if not for a Derrick White miracle.
I agree; it’s tempting to say the momentum is too far on the side of Boston at this point and that the Heat can’t rally on the road after dropping three straight. Again, what’s fresh in our minds is the last three games. But I would encourage you to remember that Miami also won three straight games in this series; they just happened to be the first three, and that trend didn’t continue.
The fact of the matter is it is very, very difficult to win four straight playoff games in the NBA. It’s why you don’t often see sweeps. It’s why no team in history has managed to climb all the way out of a 3-0 hole to win a playoff series. One hundred and fifty teams, not including these Celtics, have tried, and 150 teams have failed.
It’s true; the Celtics have already bucked some major odds. Of those 150 previous teams to go down 3-0, only three — the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers, the 1994 Denver Nuggets, and the 1951 New York Knicks — have managed to even get it to a Game 7. But none of them finished the job. That fourth straight win has always been too much.
Does that mean I think the Heat are going to win? I’m not saying that. What I am saying is it would be a mistake to assume that Miami’s clock has already struck midnight, and I know many of you out there think just that. Vegas thinks it, too. That’s why the Celtics are 7.5-point favorites on Monday.
The public has been dismissing the Heat in this series from the jump; even when they were up 2-0 they were plus-money to make the Finals. We were looking for any reason to go back to doubting the Heat. Three straight losses are more than enough to completely forget this Miami team is no typical eight-seed. This is not a Cinderella team. If you still think it is, I don’t know what to tell you.
Will Caleb Martin keep playing like an All-Star? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure Butler is going to have the pedal on the floor from the opening tip on Monday. Charles Barkley said Butler was too patient in Game 6, and I agree. It’s a fine line for a superstar in the NBA. You wait too long, patience becomes passivity, and you never actually get going. Butler got it going too late in Game 6, and Miami still took the lead with three seconds to play.
There is still little proof that Boston can stop Butler when he decides to dominate, particularly as a scorer. And when Butler dominates as a scorer, Miami’s shooters have a way of getting going. If that happens, it will come down to whether Boston can make its own 3-pointers at a high clip. Same story as the rest of this series, really.
So we’ll see. If I said I had any idea who would win this game, I’d be lying. But that’s the point here. Nobody knows. You might think you do, as the Celtics have stormed back and feel every bit like the better team heading into Monday night, but that’s your recency bias talking. Turn that voice off. That thing will get you in a lot of trouble.