A Deep Dive Into What Was Another Frustrating Celtics Collapse

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You simply cannot talk about the 2020 postseason and the Boston Celtics without talking about their love for collapsing late in games and blowing huge leads. After they blew they 17 point lead in Game 2, it marked the 4th time in their last 7 games that we saw the Celts do that type of shit. It very nearly happened again in Game 3, when a lead that was once 20 was trimmed all the way down to 5 with under a minute left. For whatever reason they cannot get out of their own way and they are stealing years off the lives of every one of their fans.

So because we have roughly 50 years to wait through until this team plays again in Game 4, I wanted to take some time and really dive into what the hell happened in Game 3 and why this team decided to make things hard on themselves. Their blown lead didn't result in a loss, but that doesn't mean we can ignore it. When this kind of shit happens we immediately go to the blame game, is it Brad or the players or both? So I went through everything to try and find an answer.

For me, this whole disaster started at the 5:17 mark of the third quarter when Marcus Smart made this layup to give the Celts a 80-62 lead

That's what I think we all want to see at this stage of the game. Use your size to get into the lane and take a high percentage shot. It felt like maybe they finally figured things out. Well we should have known that this was only going to be the beginning. You might remember what soon followed this play. When you think of blowing leads and what helps jump start a collapse, it's usually some stupid turnovers or some missed easy opportunities that give the opponent life. Sort of like these back to back missed point blank layups which came after two previously missed FTs

There's nothing strategy related to these plays. It's not a situation where Brad couldn't figure out a zone or the players relied too much on iso ball. But you see when you look back at these collapses, that's not how they start. They start with plays like this. Two layups that should have extended the lead and instead make you start to doubt. An 18 point lead that should have been over 20 was quickly down to 15 with under three minutes to go. There's just a different mentality with a score like that. That's when we saw this team begin to press and try and make up for those misses with home run plays. 


For example, after Bam's FTs cut it to 82-67, we had this shot from Kemba

To me, this is where we get the first signs of some of the Celts issues during these collapses. For starters, I'm not sure where Gordon was seeing as he drove the ball. The pass to Grant sort of seemed like a panic play where he had nothing and just had to get rid of it. That sort of fucked up their spacing. He could have just kicked it to Kemba for the spot up three. But because he didn't, given the shot clock this now forced Kemba to have to go iso. Once again we saw this team mostly just stand around. Look at how wide open the middle of the paint is, yet Tatum just stands there. It's not that this isn't a shot Kemba can make, but you have to remember the situation. Missed FTs, missed layups, and the first jumper we see this team take is an end of shot clock contested step back three. Tell me isn't that a common theme in every one of these blown leads.

On the other end, the Celts defensively are either fouling, or giving up layups. After Smart's layup at 5:17 to the 2 minute mark of the quarter, the Celts gave up 

- Butler floater and1

- Bam FTs

- Dragic floater

- Dragic FTs

Now with 1:49 left in the third quarter the lead is down to 12. What happens next? More turnovers

Here we have MIA's zone and the Celts set up against it the exact way you would want from a strategy standpoint. Tatum is at the FT line just like we all want him to. I like how he cleared out and made space for Jaylen's drive, he just didn't protect it and got stripped. These are the sort of momentum plays that when things aren't going your way only make things snowball. Immediately after this play the Celts gave up a Herro layup and the lead was down to 82-73. From 18 to 9 in about 4 minutes.


So let's pause for a minute. 

These are all kind of fluke plays right? From the Smart layup until now, the only "bad" shot we saw the Celts take was that Kemba stepback, but at the same time that's a shot he can make. It's not like they were unable to break the zone or anything like that, they were just missing layups. That's why this collapse felt a little different from the previous two where the Celts had no idea what the fuck they were doing. The issue to me is more on the defensive end where the Celts couldn't prevent the Heat from scoring in the paint. 

After that Herro layup with things sort of in the balance, Kemba came through with the much needed midrange pullup

This is a nice little wrinkle that I wonder if Brad talked about. With Bam out of the game, I love how Theis immediately screened the top guy of the Heat zone. Olynyk was sort of caught in no-man's land


This is something to put a pin in later. This is Kemba's sweet spot and a shot he can make in his sleep. You see to beat this zone you don't always have to have a man at the FT line, especially when there is no Bam. Again, from a strategy standpoint the Celts knew what to do and they executed.

They finish the quarter strong behind 5 big points from Tatum and have 15 point lead heading into the fourth. Time to relax? God no. You see this even with back to back threes from Hayward and Tatum to start the quarter and the lead getting back up to 19 points at the 10:09 mark, we immediately saw this team drop back into their bad habits. Let's start with Tatum at the 8:39 mark

Look at where he catches the ball. Basically at midcourt with only 8 seconds left. That pretty much gives him one option, which is to go iso. They do a good job of getting him the switch on Duncan Robinson, but Jimmy Butler doesn't really follow Kemba as he cuts through, instead he sort of waits for Tatum in the event he drives. This forces Tatum to take the #1 shot we all hate him taking. The long contested two end of shot clock stepback. With both sides going a little cold for a few possessions this became a 100-80 game with about 7:13 to go. You would think that would be a done deal but of course it wasn't.

With around 4:30 left and the lead down to 16, it felt like this team once again went back to the home run play. I've yet to see this actually work for them so far this postseason. This is another one of these situations where it's not like this is a shot Tatum can't make, but more it being a problem to take this type of shot given the situation.

Once again everyone stood around and watched. There was no movement and it again resulted in a low percentage, contested look.  After a Duncan Robinson made three and Smart missed three, things started to get tight down the stretch. At the 2:14 mark this was a 109-96 game.

Let's pause one more time.

You see the difference in this part of the collapse compared to the third quarter? Those were missed fluke plays. This time it was more due to lazy offense, settling for isolation and hero ball as well as settling for threes. From 5:01 to 2:47 the Celts took 4 shots. A total of 3 of them were from deep and the lead went from 16 to 11. When you're trying to prevent a collapse, I'm not sure that's the best strategy. 


In the final two minutes, you basically need to be perfect to put a team away. The Celts were the opposite immediately after the Heat cut it to 11. What is the one thing you don't want to do in this spot? Turn it over and settle for isolation offense. Well…..

Two brutal turnovers and an isolation Kemba on three consecutive possessions. This is just losing basketball. I think Smart expected a much harder roll to the rim but even still it wasn't even open, then everyone stood around and watched Kemba take a contested long two, then Kemba had another brutal turnover. That's just poor decision making. It was almost as if they were going through the motions just waiting for the clock to expire. That's the frustrating part. 

As we know, then came the Jaylen flagrant and Smart bailed the team out at the FT line to prevent what would have been an even more painful collapse than the previous two. Crisis averted.

So what did we learn?

For me, this collapse had two parts. What we saw to end the third was mostly due to fluke missed layups and FTs. That's not really all that concerning. What is concerning though is after the Celts rebuilt their lead, they couldn't stop themselves from falling into their bad habits. A total of 6 TOs and 10 fouls combined with isolation basketball is what made this a game again. They get tight as soon as they start to see their lead slip and almost forget what got them the lead in the first place. How many of those clips when things were getting a little tight did you see someone drive aggressively to the rim like we saw in the first three quarters? Instead it was standing around and taking contested long jumpers. That is always going to be a recipe for failure. From the 5 minute mark until the final buzzer, this team had TWO shots in the paint. TWO. That's where I think Brad maybe needs to help out a little bit. Call a set that gives you something attacking the rim.


When you talk about the Celts preventing these collapses, it's really not all that complicated. Don't turn the ball over, play good defense without fouling, and attack the rim. The more they take their foot off the gas and stop playing, the more of these leads they are going to blow. There could not be a more clear difference in how they approached the Heat defense in the first three quarters compared to the second half of the fourth quarter. It was like they were completely different teams and if they do that shit on Wednesday, they could very well be staring at a 1-3 hole.