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The Boston Celtics Season Is Officially Now On Life Support

Maddie Malhotra. Getty Images.

Devastation. That is what consumes my body at the moment and my guess is you're right there with me. My feeling after Game 1 was mostly annoyance because we all watched the Celts throw away a game at home through turnovers (18). My feeling after Game 3 was severe pain, because we saw this team blow a lead with under a minute left after storming all the way back where the difference was basically two missed 3PA by Brown and Smart with 50 seconds left. This feeling after one of the biggest collapses and choke jobs in Celtics playoff history has me all sorts of fucked up. It's like a combination of 2010 Game 7, the OG 3, and then one of the most inexplicable turns of events I could ever imagine. The way the Celts have blown 2 of their 3 games at home in this series is insanely maddening and just like I said after Game 3, they have no one to blame but themselves. Giving away playoff games, whether they are at home or on the road, is not how you advance in a series. It's how you find yourself on an Inside The NBA "Gone Fishing" segment. 

I know nobody wants to hear it, but it is my job to tell you. No team has been able to win 2 games in a row this entire series so far. The last time the Celts played in MIL, they won. In a best of 3, the goal is to win 2 games. Doesn't matter if it's a win/loss/win or loss/win/win or win/win. The goal has not changed. The path to now achieve it may have become harder, but this is a team that has responded well to adversity for the last 5.5 months and has already done so twice in this very series, including on the road. They are not dead. I am dead, but they are still alive.

It stings, I get it. Every single time I close my eyes I see that fight for the rebound with 14 seconds left. But nobody said this would be easy. Until this team loses 4 times in a playoff series, I refuse to give up. You can choose to if you want, but my guess is you'll hop right back on if they pull this off. I said it after the game, but if loving and trusting was easy, everyone would do it. Sometimes you have to go through hell to reach the top of the mountain, and this team has the talent to get the job done. 

I know the numbers. Teams down 2-3 are 32-184 all time. When you've lost games in the order that the Celts have this series, that team is 1-3. The last series win with that came in 2014 when the Pacers beat the Hawks in the first round. Here's what I also know. The Boston Celtics own the most 3-2 comebacks in NBA history. 

For them to keep their season alive, we're going to need to add one more to that list. 

Alright, enough stalling. Let's get into it.

The Good

- If we're in the trust tree, I wasn't sure I even wanted to write anything in this section. Despite there being a whole bunch of awesome shit for 46 minutes, the final 2 minutes have taken all the wind out of that sail. But then I thought about it and you know what? Fuck that. There's no reason to act like this series is over, because it's not. If anything, we all need something to distract us from the pain we're all experiencing so in a way this section has never been more important. 

So let's try something. Jaylen Brown was pretty good in this game, let's have a look

God dammit. I think this had the opposite effect I was going for because now I'm sitting here just mad that the Celts wasted a great Jaylen game. 

- I'm looking around and there are all these things the Celts did well like ball movement, points in the paint, great defense to build a lead, successful lineups etc but it's all just making me mad. 

Good thing is this is my blog and I make the rules. Instead of spinzoning right now, I want to vent. I tried, I thought the Jaylen highlights would snap me out of it but to continue on with this section feels fake. Let's just get to the meat on the bone, blog through it, accept the reality, and turn the page. That's the healthy thing to do…..I think.

The Bad

- Where do we even begin. Let's start with the high level stuff. In this game, we saw the Celtics

  • Shoot 51.2% as a team vs 43.5% for MIL
  • Win the points in the paint battle 50-44
  • Win the fastbreak battle 15-7
  • Won the assists battle 25-22
  • Won the turnover battle 10-13
  • Built a 14 point fourth quarter lead
  • Got 60 points from their two stars
  • Got 20 points on 9-10 shooting from their two main bench guys

the list goes on and on. Normally when you add all that shit up, you win. I think that's where my frustration is rooted. It's not like this team didn't show up in Game 5 and got absolutely smoked like they were the Warriors or something. They did nearly everything they had to do to put themselves in a position to win. So the fact that despite all of those things we still saw this team choke is something I would classify as "bad". Wasting opportunities and performances like this is what gives me that feeling in the pit of my stomach. It just goes to show you that no matter what you do for the majority of the game, if you fuck around in winning time none of it matters. It was pretty clear what was going on as we all watched it unfold. The Bucks have championship experience and a championship mindset. They played the full 48 minutes and were rewarded.

With the Celts, it showed how much work there is still left to do. They stopped playing, plain and simple. It's one thing for us fans to do nothing but stare at the clock and scream at it to move faster. That's why we're fans. Once you see the players do that same shit, only disaster follows. We're going to talk more about that 4th quarter in a minute so hold your thoughts until we get to the proper section. 

- To beat this MIL team, everyone has to show up. That became even more important once we learned that Rob was going to miss this game. In a Game 5 when tied 2-2, it's about who can be the more desperate team. Who can play with energy and hustle and win the 50/50 plays. That's the shit that turns a game like this and potentially a series. It's on everyone from the role players to the stars to come through, especially at home.

So with no Rob and Grant getting the start, what you cannot have is a 0/2/1 performance with 0-3 (0-2) shooting and 4 fouls to go along with 2 TOs. I don't know what happened to Grant, but he's looked way more like Year 2 Grant ever since his Game 2 explosion. I dunno if it's the starting that's throwing him off, but at a team worst -11 in his 30 minutes, only grabbing 2 rebounds and being flat out afraid to shoot his open looks, that's just shit that cannot happen.

Since Game 2, Grant is shooting just 23.8/15.4% while playing 29.7 minutes a night. He's just 2-13 from three over those 3 games. Of any Celtic that has taken more than 4 3PA in those 3 games, no Celtic has made fewer. It's been brutal. So much of this offense is the drive and kick game and Grant being a reliable and willing spot up shooter. I know he has a huge burden defensively with Giannis, but I'm sorry, that's life. This team needs him to not be a negative on the offensive end if they want to win. 

- My next issue isn't just a Grant issue, it's an everyone issue.

Keith mentions the fourth quarter in this tweet, but it illustrates a larger point for something that once again happened throughout the game. When this team spends more time complaining than getting back, the Bucks will ALWAYS hit a huge three. I thought they would have learned this lesson already since this exact same shit already lost them a game in this series. It's inexcusable. I don't care if it's Grant or Jayson or Jaylen. Fucking stop doing this. It is literally costing you your season, how many more times do you have to see it? The calls are never going to change, there's literally no benefit in doing shit like this, and all it does is hurt you time and time again.

When the Celts don't bitch and instead get back, they win. The officials weren't even that bad in this game either! I'd say this was probably the best called game we've had in this entire series. It wasn't perfect, but there was no reason to keep acting this way. This is loser shit in my opinion. You don't see the Bucks doing this shit do you? No. They are disciplined and they know to get back. This is where the Celts immaturity still hasn't been solved. I don't know if it's going to take a full on brutal series loss for them to finally get it, but how many more wake up calls do they need? Enough is enough with this bullshit already.

- The backbone of this team is defense. Everything starts and ends with their ability to defend. I know a ton will be made about the late game offense (we'll get there), but we should not be overlooking this one gigantic issue

That is what I would call….bad defense. Ime even touched on it during his in game interview heading into the 4th quarter. He talked about how giving up a 30 point quarter in the 3rd was unacceptable. I agree. This teams inability to get stops and force tough shots played a huge role in this collapse. That's the thing I don't think many people get. They view everything as just the final 2 minutes, but it was a larger issue. The final 24 minutes of this game consisted of piss poor defense, which as we know is something that cannot happen. Especially for a team that prides itself on showing up on that end of the floor. 

I've said it all season long. If this team doesn't defend, nothing else matters. Last night was a pretty clear example of that. 

It's not really his fault because he's human, but Al hasn't really been as effective on Giannis as he was to start the series in terms of limiting Giannis' FG%. In their 27 possessions last night, Giannis had 13 points on 6-13 shooting. Tatum as a defender limited his matchups to 7-14 shooting. Jaylen's were 8-16. Smart's were 5-11. That's simply not good enough and ultimately it was too much to overcome.

- I hated this team's offensive approach to start this game. It felt like they were trying to replicate what happened in Game 2, where they came out and killed the Bucks with threes to get that initial separation. Said a different way, there was way too much settling. Of their first 24 shots, 11 were 3PA (2-11). Tatum and Brown were probably the biggest culprits with this (2-8). I don't know if it was the fact that the Bucks came out hot from three (4-8) and the Celts felt they had to keep launching in an effort to keep up or what, but more often than not when we see them start games with this approach things usually don't work out. Sure you might get a Game 2 performance every once in a while, but that's probably the exception, not the rule. 

What was frustrating was how effective the Celts were while taking 2pt FGA to start this game

Shot balance is so important when playing this Bucks team that lapses like this cannot happen. It would be one thing if they were struggling with 2pt FGA like they did in Game 1, but that is not what happened. 

- On the surface, Jayson Tatum's 34/6/4 looks good. He only had 1 TO which was great. So why is he in this section? I dunno, where else can I put a 12-29 (2-11) performance. My hands are tied. Honestly, this reminds me a lot of the early season Tatum. How many games did we see the Celts drop simply because Tatum couldn't make a bucket? Where if he shoots just slightly below average, they probably win. In looking at his last 3 games of this series, that same theory applies. 

Game 3: 21/0% shooting (loss)

Game 4: 45/30% (win)

Game 5: 41/18% (loss)

In the 3 losses this series, Tatum is shooting 33/23% with 13 assists and 7 TOs. This is a bit of an issue considering he led the team with 66 FGA. Part of this is for sure the Bucks defensive strategy on Tatum, they deserve a ton of credit for that, but at the same time, it's Jayson Tatum. I think it's fair to expect better than 33/23% splits regardless of what the defense is doing. For the series, he's shooting just 30% from three on very high volume (9.4 3PA). That's so killer when you also see he's shooting just 39% overall from the floor. Plain and simple, he cannot keep laying these eggs in terms of efficiency if the Celtics want to keep their season alive. 

As the best player and the franchise guy, that is the burden he faces. It's not always fair. Other people have to step up as well of course, but it starts and ends with Tatum. When he stops being aggressive and settles, things tend to go wrong. He started the fourth quarter doing the exact opposite. He was aggressive early and that's what helped build their 14 point lead. Then around the 6 minute mark….he just stopped doing that

- Every loss in this series has come down to the same self inflicted wounds. Turnovers and offensive rebounds. You limit those, the Bucks cannot beat you. That much has been proven in this series. The Celtics built their lead in the first half because they didn't turn the ball over. They had just 2 TOs and limited the Bucks to just 6 2nd chance points. Naturally, they led 54-47. The Bucks were shooting 39/25% over the first 24 minutes, everything was exactly how we hoped.

Then the second half happened. Suddenly the Celts couldn't stop turning the ball over and they couldn't get a defensive rebound to save their lives. The numbers speak for themselves

How many times have we said it? When this team can't stop committing live ball turnovers which allows the Bucks to get out in transition, they die. When they take care of the ball, they win. It's so simple yet for some reason the Celts keep doing this to themselves. 

The glass half full part of this issue is if the Celts just don't do this over the next two games, they have as good as shot as any to win both. The glass half empty part is they haven't really shown the ability to consistently not do this shit. Careless basketball is how you give shorthanded teams life and how you end up blowing games you should have won. I thought they would have learned that lesson by now, but clearly, they didn't and now they have to pay the price.

To put this into perspective, Bobby Portis had more OREB by himself (7) than the entire Celtics roster (5). That simply cannot happen.

- What the fuck is the deal with Pat Connaughton ruining my life. I mean what the hell. 

The Ugly

- Marcus Smart was really really good for 46 minutes. He took just 11 FGA (made 6), he came up with huge defensive play after huge defensive play that helped spark their initial lead. That is all true.

What's also true is he had a DISASTROUS final 2 minutes and that is what means more than any of the shit that came before it. Naturally, every Anti-Smart person on Twitter who has been waiting for this moment for 5 months cummed their pants and immediately put this entire loss on him. That is incorrect. The entire team is to blame for how things unfolded whether you want to acknowledge that or not.

Having said that, there is no denying that Smart's fuck ups were probably the nail in the coffin. In the biggest moments where the pressure was at its highest, Smart fucked up. Suggesting otherwise would also not be correct. Of everything that happened with him at the end of this game, really only one play truly bothers me. This one right here

Nobody even really touched the ball. I'm not sure Matthews makes contact there, Smart just loses it. You can't hold the ball for that long, run the clock down only to immediately turn it over. That's losing basketball. As we know, Holiday then went down and hit that dagger three. Live ball turnovers man, they kill you. Not only that, but both Smart and Jaylen lose Holiday in transition, a mental mistake that cannot happen in that moment. 

When it comes to the final shot, I'm not as bothered. That's the exact type of drive we saw Smart do on several occasions to end Game 4. We all loved it. That play was more a credit to Jrue Holiday making an all time defensive play. Unfortunately, Jaylen didn't bring his man far enough because he didn't clear out to the 3pt line on a broken set, and it allowed Holiday to help. This is about as clear a path as you can get in that moment, and my guess is with the 5 second count White got a little antsy and thought maybe Smart could take advantage

Unfortunately, he did not.

There was then this play in the final moments

When these things happen, fans just assume that if Smart made this pass, Tatum would have made the three. Maybe that happens, maybe it doesn't. What doesn't change is the fact that Smart missed the look. To then mishandle the dribble and have the ball stolen to seal the loss was the extra kick in the dick. It's the not even giving Tatum or Jaylen a chance at a shot that gives us so much pain. It was a scramble play and I'm not sure what his plan was, but I imagine he regrets not passing this ball immediately. I dunno if he didn't see it or what, but given how the previous 2 minutes went, this was basically the icing on the cake. 

People will say Smart should never have the ball in these late game situations, but yet those same people were probably praising his decision making on the Tatum game winner against the Nets. This time it didn't work out. It sucks, it really really sucks, but that's all there is to it.

- OK, let's talk about the fourth quarter. 

in real time I called it an all time collapse and this morning I feel the same way. Just an incredible display of playing soft. No rebounding, careless turnovers, playing a prevent offense where you're playing more not to lose than to win, it's all shit that we had to deal with in October-December. For a team that had been so good in the 4th quarter this series, I cannot believe they did this shit in THIS GAME of all games.

I guess we now know how Bucks fans felt with the Celts 4th quarter in Game 4. All they had to do was not lose the quarter by 9 points. All they had to do was hold onto a 14 point lead. They were up 6 with 2 minutes. Up 2 with under a minute. This team grabs this rebound

and we are having a much different discussion today. This series comes down to the smallest of plays, whether it was the in & out threes in Game 3 or the inability to grab this ball in Game 5. That's the difference between fighting for your playoff lives and this series being over. It makes me sick.

The thing is, this was an everyone issue. Just look at how their offense changed when we got into this final quarter

That is why they collapsed. They stopped moving the ball. They stopped moving bodies and forcing the defense to actually defend. This is where I'm looking at Ime like come on buddy, maybe tell everyone to stop doing this. 

Here's another question I have about the fourth. Why is Jaylen only taking 2 FGA (0-2). Especially late when it was clear they needed something at the rim. It's like everyone forgot he existed for some reason, which is not exactly great. 

Let's just call it what it was. They choked. The Celts had a golden opportunity to put themselves in a great position in this series, and they shit their pants in the biggest moments. Their stars didn't come through. The role players made mistakes. The coach didn't exactly help, it was a collective collapse for everyone involved and it could very well have cost this team their season.

So this is it. Season on the line on Friday night. Win that and get to a Game 7 at home and anything can happen. The odds are against them, many people are calling this series over and the Celts are dead. It's now on them to once again punch back and pull off the miracle. Really, it's their only choice. There is no more margin for error. They blew that shit.