CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart sat at his locker stall late Sunday night, soaking in the moment for all it was worth.
The Celtics were just minutes removed from one of the biggest playoff upsets ever, knocking off Cleveland, 111-108, a game in which Boston was a 16.5-point underdog.
Smart’s play had a lot to do with the win as he scored a career-high 27 points, which included a career-best seven made 3-pointers.
But this win was about more than Smart having the game of his life.
It was about opportunity, an unspoken rallying cry that has galvanized this Celtics team through what has been a season in which they defied the odds and naysayers time and time again.
Boston was supposed to be pretty good this season, but no one predicted the C's would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Isaiah Thomas had a breakout year in 2015-16, but few anticipated he would be even better while putting up numbers that rank among the greatest single seasons in the storied franchise’s illustrious history.
Then Thomas goes down with a right hip injury that will keep him out of the remainder of the playoffs, and the Celtics hit the road while trailing the defending champion Cavaliers 2-0.
So what do they do? Oh, not much.
They just come up with the most epic playoff comeback win ever against a LeBron James-led team.
You can dissect what happened Sunday night all you want, but in the end, it came down to one thing: Opportunity.
Which is why Boston’s Game 3 win was so sweet. And for those of us who have followed the ups and downs of this team this season recognized it was another example of the Celtics making the most of their opportunity to shock the world.
Look no further than Smart, a gritty physical defender whose shot-making isn’t exactly top-10 worthy.
No, I’m not talking about top 10 in the NBA. I’m talking top 10 on his team.
And yet there he was, delivering his usual strong play defensively while channeling his inner Isaiah Thomas to get big-time buckets in the second half, which included 11 points during a 26-10 run to close out the third and bring Boston within 87-82 going into the fourth.
With the surge came more opportunities for other Celtics like Kelly Olynyk, who gets the superstar treatment in Cleveland with more boos than any other Boston player. (They have not forgotten about that Olynyk-Kevin Love incident a couple years ago, apparently.)
Olynyk soaked in the boos while coming off the bench to splash the Cavs defense for 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
“Keep fighting, keep fighting,” Olynyk told me when I asked him about what Game 3’s win says about this team. “You can knock us down but we’ll keep getting back up. That’s what we did out there.”
The Celtics had their moment on Sunday night, reminding us just how tough-minded a bunch they can be when they are boxed in a corner and left with two choices: Fight or face inevitable elimination.
Because had they lost Game 3, they would have been down 3-0 in the series. And no one needs reminding that no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 playoff deficit.
Fortunately for them, that’s no longer an option.
Instead, they have a chance to even this series up and regain home court advantage if they can win Game 4, which, much like Game 3, seems a long shot.
They don’t care.
It has never been about being the favorite or underdog. It’s about the opportunity, something the Celtics gave themselves with Sunday’s win.