The Celtics Fumbled Away A Huge Opportunity In Game 3 And Have No One To Blame But Themselves

Stacy Revere. Getty Images.

Pain. That is what I feel. The type of pain you feel deep down in your bones. The type of pain that lives in your chest that you feel in your core, the one that consumes every thought you have, and the one that robbed us all of the ability to sleep last night. There's regular season pain where maybe you lose on a buzzer beater which certainly sucks. But this playoff pain is a different breed. This current version of pain isn't just around this heartbreaking Game 3 loss, it's more an accumulation of pain as a result of how the Celts have lost games so far this series. Game 1's carelessness and sloppy play are way more significant now after how they went on to then lose Game 3. Now, their season is basically on the line on Monday. I know we sometimes throw that around a lot but it's also the truth. I think it'd be very unrealistic to expect the Bucks and Giannis to blow 3 straight games. Shit, now having to win 3 of 4 is still very much an uphill battle to climb. That's why last night was so important and the fact that the game was right there for the taking only to come up short in the fashion they did is very, very frustrating. I don't want to go nuts and say that was a season ending loss, but it's definitely a game that can absolutely swing a series and one you would have loved to have.

As with any road team in the playoffs, your goal is to simply find a way to win one of the two games. That's still on the table, which is the good news. You may be saying to yourself, "well there's no way Jayson Tatum has the worst playoff performance of his career again" and you'd probably be right. But we don't live in a vacuum and these games are not played in a vacuum. Sure Tatum could play better, but perhaps other players regress. That's why these opportunities are so important and why throwing them away usually doesn't work out. 

Alright, we have a lot to get to so let's just get into it. We don't run from the pain, we blog through it and move on.

The Good

- You know what drives me insane? Wasting incredible Playoff Al performances. Easily one of my biggest pet peeves on the planet and something that will frustrate me until the end of time. It happened in Game 1, and boy did it happen in Game 3. Playoff Al has been so incredible on both ends of the floor that we should be taking our time this morning celebrating and appreciating what we watched instead of just using it as a way to distract us from our pain.

How awesome and rare was this performance? I dunno, making NBA history seems pretty good

That's a decent list. 22/16/5 on 9-17 (4-7), 12 huge 4th quarter points on 5-7 (2-3) shooting, Al was incredible. I think that's what makes this all so painful is you would think that if the Celts get this type of performance on the road from Al and everyone else just plays normal, you're sitting at 2-1 with all the control of the series. Considering Horford only had 23 combined points in this series heading into yesterday, it's very annoying that in both games we've seen Horford make 4 3PM, both end up in losses. Given everything he's asked to do on the defensive end in terms of containing Giannis which is an ask that is virtually impossible for mere humans to do, the fact that Al was able to consistently and efficiently produce on the other end is why he's the fucking best.

There's no complaining, there's no bitching about calls or anything like that. Al shows up and goes to work. I just wish these type of performances weren't all for nothing and weren't wasted. 

- You know who else played their ass off yesterday? Jaylen Brown.

If you want to see someone who has responded after his Game 1 stinker, look no further than this man

Game 2: 30/6/6 on 61/60%

Game 3: 27/12/4 on 50/20%

For the Celts to win this series, they need their stars to show up and carry the load. Jaylen didn't just do that by making jumpers, he also led the team with 11 FTA (10-11). That miss was rather costly in hindsight, but overall I feel good about saying the Celts don't even have a chance to win this game if not for how Jaylen played. If this is the version of Jaylen we've seen over these last two games is the one we can expect to see moving forward, things are still alive. Much like Al, it was Jaylen who really sparked that comeback in the fourth quarter, he finished with 15 points on 4-7 shooting in the final frame. One of the biggest keys to the Celts success so far this postseason has been Jaylen's ability to finish strong.

Again, this is what makes this loss so fucking frustrating. I almost feel like if you get 27 points from Horford and Jaylen in a single fourth quarter, usually the Celtics are winning that game. Now he wasn't perfect, there were a couple plays we'll look at later that I didn't love, but overall? I can't imagine anyone is complaining about Jaylen's performance in this game. He showed up.

- We also may have watched Derrick White's best game as a Celtic. 

All series we were waiting for some sign of life from White. Really anything that could simply come close to resembling any sort of positive offensive production. Going on the road, if the Celts wanted to have a chance they were going to need their role guys to step up. Not to beat a dead horse here, but you can understand why I am pounding my keyboard in frustration as I type this. They got the Derrick White offensive production they've been craving, and it was also wasted. If you were to tell me White would have 14 points on 50/60% shooting with 3 2PM in his 20 minutes, I would tell you the Celts probably won comfortably.

Nope. They lost. In horrific and heartbreaking fashion. Awesome.

I thought White was much better in this game of making quick decisions and playing with purpose, which are two things that will always put him in a position to succeed. He kept things alive by getting to the line and you could tell that helped his confidence, so the hope here is that something is now unlocked within White's game that can help him continue to be a positive contributor moving forward. It was when he played with hesitation and wasn't fully confident that we saw him struggle offensively. 

- Another solid defensive effort wasted. Holding the Bucks to just 103 points, on 40/26% splits and only 9 3PM is something that you simply cannot waste. Especially given that this was in their own building, to see the Celts defend like they have been yet be trailing this series 2-1 is such a mindfuck. The Bucks have 101, 89, 103 points in this series. I'm not sure it's physically possible to consistently defend better than what we're watching. Yeah, I'm going to say it for the billionth time already in this blog. This shit is beyond frustrating.

We knew Giannis wasn't going to be held down forever, and he wasn't. He was a monster in Game 3. But again, they scored 103 points as a team. As long as the Celts didn't turn the ball over, the Bucks had a very hard time scoring over 24 points in a quarter. It only happened once in this game, which was that brutal 3rd that was filled with more TOs than FGM. When you ask this team to beat you in the halfcourt, they struggle. When you allow them to score in transition and get easy baskets off turnovers so now you're in a tight game in the half court, they become much harder to stop. 

To have two losses in games you held the opponent to 41/35% and 40/26% is just so fucking brutal.

The Bad

- I'm really disappointed that at this point in the season, with everything on the line and how important every single possession in a playoff series is, this team is STILL putting more emphasis on complaining about calls/no calls than hustling back on defense. It's pretty fucking simple in my opinion. If you do not respect the game, the Basketball Gods will make you pay every single time. Were there maybe iffy calls? Sure. Fine. Whatever. But the second you put your focus on complaining about something a ref may or may not called and stop putting your focus on the gameplan and stopping your opponent, only bad things will happen. There were two very clear instances of this. First was Grant on this play

You can see him not sprinting back but instead clapping and complaining about the lack of a call. Well what immediately happens?

he's late to recover in the corner and Connaughton makes them pay. Ime immediately calls a timeout and rips Grant a new asshole and rightfully so. This may have only been the first quarter but it doesn't matter. It's a trend that ended up plaguing them all game. 

We also then saw something similar with Tatum later in the third quarter. He had this driving layup miss

and look what he does right at the end of the clip. Does he put his head down and sprint back? No, he turns to the ref to complain about what I imagine he feels was a missed call. Well, guess what happened next

Yup, he was slow to get back in transition and the Bucks once again killed them with a corner three. I'm not sure the Basketball Gods could make things any clearer. Stop doing this shit. This isn't November, this is the playoffs. These type of possessions can swing a game. Ime even talked about it after the game

and what's frustrating here is that this shit should surprise NO ONE. Oh, the Bucks are getting a good whistle? That's so surprising! That's what is so confusing to me about this shit. The Celtics should be expecting that kinda stuff, so instead of crying about it sprint your ass back and get a stop. At what point as an official ever stopped the game and said "you know what? You're right, let's go back and credit you points". The answer is never. 

I thought the Celts were way too mentally soft when it came to this sort of thing yesterday and ultimately it did them in. I just see no way anyone could argue that complaining about calls and not getting back on defense IN A RATHER HUGE PLAYOFF GAME is anywhere close to acceptable behavior. 

- If there's one adjustment I would like to see this team make for Game 4, it's stop allowing a Giannis on Jaylen switch. That's a matchup that just isn't going to work out well. That's no fault to Jaylen, he's just not big enough to stop Giannis 1 on 1. There's certainly no shame in that, but the Celts have to figure out their communication and plan for when the Bucks go into that set, especially late in games and the score is close. The Bucks recognized that and did a great job of exploiting it down the stretch, so I'd rather the Celts just don't switch there. They need to find ways to keep Grant/Al on Giannis at all times because really they are the only ones that have any sort of chance at putting up consistent resistance. With Jaylen, Giannis knows he can just kill him with the spin move and that's a wrap.

- I am struggling to find a reason why this team has refused to throw the lob to Rob. It's not even like they are trying but he physically can't get there. We are seeing a team that isn't even looking for the play. I noticed it when Rob first came back and thought it was maybe just the rust, but it's almost like the players have forgotten Rob is even out there or that he is even capable of completing the lob. I honestly don't understand, it's so automatic and has proven to be there if they actually look for it, but it's virtually disappeared from the Celts offensive approach.

- Outside of White, not the best shooting night for the role players. You sort of expect that on the road, but Grant/Pritchard going a combined 1-8 from three is pretty tough. Pritchard didn't give them anything in terms of shooting in his 10 minutes which is usually a recipe for disaster, and while Grant had his moments, his 2-9 overall is tough for a guy who played 33 minutes.

This is also true of the performance we saw from Marcus Smart. Back in the lineup after missed Game 2, he finished with only 2 assists and 3 TOs while going 1-8 from the floor. That's bad. I can't sit here and tell you he was good, because he wasn't. They needed him to at least be neutral offensively, and instead he was poor. I know people will make a big deal about his final shot, but that's not the three that bothered me. That's a shot I have no problem with Smart taking, plus it was about 85% of the way down.

No, the shot that Smart fucked up on was this

Smart had just made a three the possession before which was a great look coming in the flow of the offense. What that play above ended up being was basically a turnover. Just terrible situational awareness and the exact type of shot Ime talked about avoiding after the Game 1 loss. The Celts had started to go on a little mini run with plenty of time left in the quarter, they got the stop and had an opportunity to make it a one possession game. Instead, Smart took that shot. If you want to criticize Smart taking a three, at least do it with the correct one.

- This sequence literally haunted my life all last night

I mean seriously, what the fuck

How does that ball not go in? How does Grant not grab that rebound? You can't ask for two better looks than those shots and if one drops, the entire series is different. If I wanted to get really dark and give you an idea of what my brain was doing at 3:27am this morning, that sequence could ultimately be the Celtics season. That's how close the margin for error is. That shot goes, you're up 2-1 and possibly 3-1 by the time you get home. Now? You are fighting for your playoff lives. I'm sick just thinking about this again god fucking dammit.

- Listen, I don't know what you want me to say

Is this why the Celtics lost? God no. Not even close. But all I ask is that things be consistent. I'm not sure how many clear as day plays can be blatantly missed, but here we sit. I think it's possible to say that both things are true. The Celtics lost this game due to their own issues and inability to execute down the stretch. They also were on the tough end of some brutal moments that to everyone watching were pretty clear. That's where the frustration sets in. Considering this was a 103-101 game, you could argue these were pretty impactful.

- But again, the Celtics found themselves in this position because of shit THEY did. We saw 3 separate occasions with under a minute left that the Celts went 0-3. They convert just one of those, who knows what happens. On the other end, the Bucks converted with the Giannis and Jrue makes. They executed in the big moment and earned the win. That's the reality. The Celts had their opportunity to execute and they failed. 

They had 100 points with 1:49 left in the game and did not make another FGM the rest of the way. That's on them and why they currently find themselves in a 1-2 hole.

- We learned in this game why fourth quarter FTs are so important. The Celts missed 6 FTA as a team which was already annoying, but Smart and Jaylen missing a FT each in the fourth (before Smart's intentional miss) is again just asking for trouble. As great as the Celts comeback may have been, they simply left way too many points on the board in terms of FTs and missed open looks. You cannot do that shit on the road in a close game and think things will work out. 

- Hard to win on the road with 36/27% splits. We knew the 3 point shooting regression was coming, and it showed up in the form of just 9-33 from deep. What's crazy is the Celts actually flipped their approach and played more inside compared to launching threes just like we all wanted and they still came up short. Man that's annoying.

The Ugly

- I hate to do it, but where else can we put Jayson Tatum. Just like Jaylen's egg pretty much cost the Celts Game 1, this time it was Tatum's horrific showing that cost the Celts Game 3

For the Celts to be successful, it's pretty simple. Just don't be horrific. Be average. You do that, you're pretty much guaranteed to win. No disrespect to Wes Matthews, but he's Wes Matthews. The fact that he had Tatum IN JAIL is pretty unfortunate and rather concerning. In a game they just needed Tatum to give them something offensively, he had nothing. His jumpers weren't close, he only took 3 FTA, and his 10 points is nowhere close to good enough.

It's not surprising that in the games where one of the stars doesn't show up the Celts have lost, and in the game they both showed up the Celts won with ease. What concerned me about Tatum's night was he clearly let his offensive issue impact the rest of his night. He only had 1 REBOUND!!! We saw him only finish with 3 assists and I wouldn't say his defense was all that up to par either. Just a really disappointing effort from a guy who has been so awesome for the last 5+ months. What a terrible time to have the 2nd worst performance of your playoff career. That stings.

- Ultimately, this game was lost in the 3rd quarter. Just look at this shit

Just like Game 1, it came down to turnovers. This team came out of the break and did nothing but miss shots and turn the ball over, that gave the Bucks their momentum and the rest is history. You simply cannot have 7 TOs against the Bucks and think things will work out for you. It was why they had the lead in the first half in the first place! They took care of the ball and had just 4 TOs and 1 point off turnovers in the first 24 minutes. Just look at the quarter breakdown

1st quarter: 3 

2nd quarter 1 

3rd quarter: 7 

4th quarter: 1

When do you think this game changed? It's the same shit we saw in Game 1 when the Celts had 18 turnovers and 27 points off turnovers. If they take care of the ball, they win. If they fuck around and throw it away and allow the Bucks to get easy buckets in transition, they won't win. Some of the turnovers were inexcusable shit you cannot do when you feel the momentum starting to shift. Smart's bounce pass attempt through 6 people for example is just bad decision making. 

You add that all up with no Celtic making more than 1 FGM in an entire quarter, and yup, that's how you kick everyone right in the dick.

So here we go. Monday's Game 4 could very well be the entire series. Whoever wins 2 games in a row first is going to win this thing, and boy am I hoping the Celts take Games 4 and 5. If not, I'm pretty sure I'm going to look back at this game for the rest of my life as a missed opportunity. You can't do that shit this time of year, and so far the Celts have done it twice in the first three games. Not exactly ideal.