In a weird, pandemic interrupted season that stretched 11 months and 27 days the Celtics went from an unmitigated disaster last summer watching two max contract players leave for nothing to landing Kemba Walker and going on a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite all the missed opportunities that arose once the NBA season resumed, the Celtics accomplished what so few teams ever can; rebuilding on the fly. As Kemba said in his post-game press conference last night, “This is our first year together, we are going to have some time to grow.” He’s not wrong.
Now that the back patting is over, lets take a look at the epic choke job the Celtics completed last night. For whatever reason this team struggled mightily when it came to neck stepping time. Whether they’re too young, lack a killer instinct, or just don’t have a defined closer on the team, whatever it was, this team struggled to finish games. We saw it in the Raptors series that they were lucky to escape in 7 and it carried over to the Eastern Conference Finals where the Celtics blew late leads in Games 1 and 2. The latter of which led to an all-time dysfunctional locker room blowout before winning Game 3, dropping Game 4, and winning Game 5 to force a 6th and decisive game. It looked like Boston’s talent was going to do what it had in the previous round, overwhelm their gritty opponent. They even forced the Heat to go away from their vaunted zone defense as the Celtics finally figured out a consistent way to penetrate and disrupt.
However, when it came to crunch time the Celtics once again WITHERED. The Celtics defense imploded as the Heat scored at will.
The Celtics closed out Game 6 with a 159.1 defensive rating over the final nine minutes, allowing the Heat to score on 10(!) consecutive possessions in one stretch. On one last crunch-time collapse: https://t.co/SltOwilYtp— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) September 28, 2020
BRobb also tweeted out the Celtics’ clutch stats (idk ask BRobb for the definition of that one) and they’re just as bad as you’d expect.
Celtics final clutch stats against Heat over five games (19 minutes of clutch play)— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) September 28, 2020
Offensive rating: 85.3
Defensive rating: 150
Net rating -64.7 https://t.co/SltOwilYtp
With 9 minutes to go in the game and Boston up by six, the Heat went on a 26-6 run to officially stomp them out. Even worse was their absolutely moronic, panic stricken shot selection down the stretch.
Jayson Tatum makes a two point shot to make it 102-103 with 5:40 left. Next possessions— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) September 28, 2020
Kemba missed three
Kemba missed three
Tatum missed three
Smart missed three
Tatum missed tech FT
Jaylen missed three
Smart missed layup
Where the hell is Brad Stevens during all that? The Heat went on something like a 19-6 run before he decided to call a timeout with 4:30 remaining. By that point though it was too late and too big of a hole and then the C’s really were forced to start jacking up 3’s.
One of my biggest complaints, but it’s probably more about the league in general than the Celtics specifically, is there insistence on chucking threes even when they’re clearly not falling. Boston went 15-46 (32.6%) from 3 for the game, 4-22 from 3 in the 2nd half, and an atrocious 2-14 in the 4th. In the 4th the Celtics shot 37% from the field including 14.3% from 3. Meanwhile the Heat shot 66.7% from the field while only taking 3 three pointers in the 4th and nailing them all. For the game the Heat went 13-27 from 3 for a 48.1% clip, nearly 16% better than the C’s.
The Celtics never had an answer for Bam Adebayo all night. Daniel Theis fouled out again while getting worked by the “point center” and rookie Grant Williams probably did the best job covering the big man, but Bam was just on another level dropping 32 and 14.
I also want to point out that while I respect Jimmy Butler’s MJ-esque toxic competitive streak, I also would have been fully on board with Jaylen Brown getting ejected for knocking him out after that dirty play under the hoop.
Here’s the reason why Jaylen Brown was rightfully pissed after his dunk. pic.twitter.com/7Q3q8Yux3Y— Jay King (@ByJayKing) September 28, 2020
No foul was called because the NBA officiating is hilariously inconsistent, but don’t let that fool you. This was a dirty, dangerous play and could have seriously injured Brown. Don’t be surprised if these two get into a scuffle down the line because I guarantee Brown will not forget about that play.
So where do the Celtics go from here? This is definitely a team at a crossroads with no clear path to improvement. Bench scoring is obviously a need, they need more defined roles, but more than anything the Celtics need to add some veteran grit and balls. Every great team has veteran players and character guys that can consistently get buckets and/or act as a mentor to younger teammates. Think Eddie House, James Posey, Sam Cassell, and PJ Brown on the ’08 Celtics. They need to add some grit to their bench rather than filling it with all their mediocre draft picks from the last 3 years who can’t create offense. Danny Ainge has created the greatest G League team ever assembled with all those draft picks, but that has not translated to consistent productive NBA players outside of Smart, Tatum, and Brown. Three core players no doubt, but the C’s have failed to develop much in the way of bench talent. That is only made more glaring when the C’s are getting lit up by rookies like Tyler Herro in Miami, who the C’s apparently loved pre-draft.
Grit seems to be the main thing they lacked this postseason as the Celtics routinely blew late leads only to get bailed out by the skin of their teeth on talent alone. Well that string of luck came to a swift end last night as the Heat showed them what a team with a lead is supposed to do. It steps on your neck and closes it out.
So do the Celtics looks to reconfigure their roster or just hope the deep playoff run provides valuable experience? Felger and Mazz producer Jimmy Stewart was floating rumors of a potential Marcus Smart trade last week if the C’s got bounced.
"I get the feeling that Marcus Smart might not be here next year." – @IAmJamesStewart after hearing from his mysterious sources.— The 300s (@The300sBoston) September 18, 2020
Getting a W on Saturday night would help with a lot of this, but it sounds like a #Celtics power struggle is occurring between Smart, Brown, & Tatum. pic.twitter.com/UMpgsxpRFq
I think Tatum is completely untouchable at this point as he should be. He definitely needs some more seasoning to his game (stop routinely settling for fadeaway threes) and generally has some maturing to do, but you don’t trade elite talent for no reason.
Other than that they could move Jaylen Brown but I just cannot get on board with trading him or Smart. That would be a MASSIVE “addition by subtraction” gamble that I would not be willing to take and I dont think Danny Ainge would either.
There was speculation that the team lacked clearly defined roles and too many guys thought it was their team. Theres only one basketball and if everyone wants to play hero ball and take the last shot then you’re going to run into trouble.
It’s not a hot take but I think their best bet is to hope yet another brutal postseason exit helps their young core build the testicular fortitude required to make the jump next year. I keep thinking of that scene from “The Last Dance” documentary where Michael Jordan details how he got his brains beat in by the Celtics and Pistons for years before finally getting over the hump. Even with 6 rings on his fingers, Jordan admitted those early struggles were necessary to give him the experience and the drive to finally break through.
The most unfortunate part though is this was the easiest path to the Finals the Celtics were going to have any time soon with a depleted/dysfunctional Philly team, Giannis getting knocked out early, no Kawhi or LeBron in the East, oh ya and the Nets will be rolling out Kyrie and Kevin Fucking Durant next season. So while I want to preach patience, I can understand if Celtics brass doesn’t feel the same way.
We don’t even know when the next NBA season will begin thanks to the COVID interruption. Training camps for next season would have normally started around now, but Adam Silver has hinted at a Christmas or even January start for the 2020-21 season. Until then we’ll have plenty of missed opportunities to regret as we watch LeBron James inevitably win another title. Hopefully this Celtics team uses that as motivation and comes back ready to take over the East and finally, legitimately threaten for the Larry O’Brien trophy next year.