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After Dropping Game 1 In Horrific Fashion, It Is Now Once Again On The Celtics To Punch Back

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It's important to remember that to lose a playoff series, you must lose 4 times. Series are not won nor are they lost after the first game. The same would be true had the Celtics pulled

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out last night's opener instead of what we got. You'll remember that had Tatum not hit that layup against the Nets, the Celts would have lost all three opening games of their playoff series. Last time I checked, they haven't lost a series. 

So while there is some relief in knowing that this is a familiar position we've seen the Celts be in and that more often than not they respond, I do want to be careful with that way of thinking. The biggest thing I stress in the postseason is you can't really compare one series to another. So, just because they were able to overcome a Game 1 loss against the Bucks doesn't really guarantee shit. For starters, they were at home. Now they're on the road in a hostile environment where it's clear they can be forced into playing terrible basketball. The players are different, the systems are different, the context around the series is different, the list goes on and on. 

But what I do know is that I saw a team last night that is very capable of winning Game 2, they just need to make some adjustments. Getting some key starters back might help, but I'm not even banking on that. Even with what we saw on the floor last night, there was enough to win. I know that because I watched the first half. When you get this deep into the playoffs, you simply cannot have historically horrific lapses. A single bad stretch can cost you a game, and potentially a series. Possessions are so important at this stage where mental lapses are magnified. I'm not even saying you have to be perfect for 48 minutes, that's a little unrealistic given how competitive these two teams are, but you cannot have a third quarter like what we witnessed. Lose that shit by 10, fine. But by 25? I'm still sick just thinking about it.

Much like I felt in the previous series, it's not as if the Celts have a talent issue that is leading to these losses. They just had a bad quarter of playing like assholes. That's their issue. When your issues seem to be more self inflicted, that shit is correctable. While it sucks that we watched this team throw away a great opportunity to take control of that series, that same opportunity still exists as we enter Game 2. The Celts were punched in the mouth. Now it's time to punch back.

The Good

- Boy was it great to see Rob back and most importantly looking like the same old Rob. Looks like that extra rest did him good, because this man not only looks to have his quickness back, but Rob looks bouncy as hell which is how you truly know he's feeling normal

For my money, Rob was the best Celtic to see the floor last night. His impact was immediate, and a huge part of why the Celts looked so good in that first half was because they have their normal Rob back. I didn't realize how much I missed his weakside help defensively or his OREB/lobs on the offensive end. So much is made about Rob's defense, and for good reason, but the real value is what he brings on the offensive end. As long as the players don't forget the Lob To Rob is actually unstoppable, things look great. They've desperately missed what he brings on the offensive glass, and considering the Heat only play one big this is setting up to be a great matchup for Rob should he stay healthy. 

Plus/minus can be tricky, but Rob was the only positive Celtic last night at a +5 in his 28 minutes. He did his job from the line (6-7) and considering there's no way he's even close to being in true game shape yet, I loved how he battled. Rob cares and you can see it every possession. To get an idea of Rob's impact, all you have to do is look at how the Celts did based his on/off's from this game

On the floor (28 minutes): 

116 Ortg / 109 Drtg / +7 net rating 

Off the floor (20 minutes): 

97 Ortg / 131 Drtg / -34 net rating

So yeah, he seems pretty important to their success. I think heading into this series we were all wondering how he would look since he's still working his way back from his initial injury, and then on top of that had to deal with a bone bruise issue. We'll see how his body responds to those 28 minutes, but I feel great about what this team can do if this is the version of Rob we're going to get. It just sucks they wasted such a great two way performance.

- With no Smart available and how the Heat chooses to play defense, this is going to be a big series for Payton Pritchard. He needs to be a positive. To go from being the 3rd guard to suddenly playing 30 minutes off the bench, I thought for the most part Pritchard gave this team exactly what you had hoped for

18/5/4 on 6-16 (4-11) and only 1 TO, I felt like Pritchard held up his end of the bargain. Even when he was targeted defensively, he was still right there and gave good effort, he's just short. That'll have to be adjusted (we're getting to that later), but there's no surprise that this team looked its best offensively when Pritchard was on the floor to help provide spacing. That's what helped open up the driving lanes in the first half, and we know that if you give him an inch of space behind the line, he's going to take that shit with confidence and knock it down. 

Even with his limitations physically, we're learning more and more that Pritchard has the stones to be a big game performer. He did it in Game 7, and for the most part of last night it was clear he was not intimidated by the moment. Sometimes the lights can be too bright for young role players, but that is not the case with Pritchard. To do it on the road as well, that also gives me confidence moving forward. 

- Listen, his jump shot is broken to all hell. It's a little painful to watch at times and that's obviously a concern, but for a guy who essentially had zero playoff minutes before last night, I though Nesmith's minutes were fairly decent

It was his energy that helped extend the lead in the second quarter, and obviously, nobody saw those 3 blocks coming. Of course, there was the downside like the bad Herro foul on a 3PA and biting on Jimmy Butler pump fakes, but again, this dude literally had not played anything close to meaningful minutes this entire postseason. When you factor that in, if he can keep bringing that energy defensively, there's a role for him to have spot minutes here and there while Smart/Horford recover. The Heat play small so you can get away with having him be the small ball four, as long as it's in small doses. 

We saw what happened when maybe you expose him to too many minutes, when things were sort of falling apart it was a bad time for his three point shot to look so broken, but all things considered, I thought Nesmith was a pleasant surprise. Especially defensively which has long been talked about being one of his flaws

- Everything about that first half was exactly how we want this team to play. They had 62 points on 59/35% shooting, the ball moved to the tune of 17 assists on 26 FGM, Tatum looked unstoppable, the bench was contributing, defensively they were nails. If they play like that, they will win this series. We know they're capable of it, in fact it's how they looked in 3 of the 4 quarters. 

This was not a case of the Celts relying on threes either, like we saw them do against MIL. They attacked. Of those 62 points, 42 came in the paint which was the most first half paint points the Celts have had in 25 years. Their shot profile was about as close to perfect as you could want

No surprise that with this approach, the Celts looked great. This is going to be there for them all series. As long as they take care of the ball and play with force, they can continue to have this type of success.

For the Celts to win this series, they need their wing players to dominate their defensive matchups. The Heat don't really have the perimeter strength or length outside of Butler to consistently stay with Tatum/Brown/White etc on drives. Max Srus was having all sorts of issues early. Herro isn't exactly a lockdown defender. When we saw the Celts be aggressive and win those matchups, the offense looked great. But once they started turning the ball over they were much more hesitant, they drove into traffic and the Heat feasted. They are a team with very active hands, and it's those active hands that often times make up for what they lack in terms of physical ability. How many times did we see the ball get stripped last night? The mismatches are there to be exposed, it just requires the Celts to actually do it.

The Bad

- Whatever the plan was to limit Jimmy Butler, it failed. Miserably. Just like in the 2020 series, they had no answer for him on either end. He torched Jaylen on his 29 possessions to the tune of 10 points on 4-6 shooting, and the worst thing you can do is give Butler easy points. Whether it's live ball turnovers or free throws, you have to make him earn it by proving he can consistently hit jumpers. Allowing him to take 18 FTA is inexcusable. It wasn't even a situation like they had with Giannis where some of the fouls made no sense. Of all the whistles Butler got, I was maybe curious about only 1 or 2. He was legit fouled, which is concerning. You have to be able to defend without fouling at this stage of the playoffs. If you let Butler get confidence with fastbreak dunks and then he gets in rhythm at the line, you see a monster performance like he put up in Game 1.

It's hard to really evaluate the defensive approach considering who was missing, but one thing we know to be true is that as long as there is a defender that can be hunted, Butler will hunt it. Especially down the stretch of a game, which is exactly what we saw with Pritchard. This play right here is a prime example 

I know the Celts switch everything, but if Pritchard is going to be on the floor, I feel like you have to resist the urge to switch when the Heat put him in P&R to get Butler that mismatch. This wasn't even bad defense by Pritchard either, but it's just like with Kemba. It's a height issue. Butler doesn't even worry about shooting over Pritchard. By not switching, make him beat a longer, taller defender.

- It looked as though the bill for Grant's Game 7 came due. Rough night for him on both ends, he had a tough job defending anyone other than Bam without fouling and it was one of those games where he seemed to be more interested in talking to the officials than simply playing. At the same time he keeps getting crushed in the face, so I'm not totally convinced he isn't concussed or something. 

With Al out, they needed a good Grant game. I'm not saying he needed to be Game 7 Grant, but he couldn't be a negative. Considering he was a starter worst -14 in his 34 minutes, it wasn't the best we've ever seen Grant play. Also, only 1 rebound with that much floor time is not exactly what I would call great. 

- Remember that awesome shot profile picture in the section above? Would you like to see the opposite?

That right there is the second half. After 42 paint points in the first 24 minutes, the Celts only had 6 over the final 24. They couldn't hit a shot and they couldn't stop turning it over. Two things that will always bury you in a playoff game. Overall, the second half numbers from everyone involved were fucking gross. I wish I didn't have to show you this, but my hands are tied

Unfortunately, it appears this team forgot that NBA games are 48 minutes long. You're not beating anyone if you put up 45 points in a half and have 28/30% splits. On what planet is having nearly as many TOs (9) as FGM (10) over an entire half. Then on the defensive end, there were no stops because half of these fucking points came off turnovers. It's the same old story in each Celtics postseason loss. If you turn the ball over, you die.

In Game 1? A total of 16 TOs led to 18 Heat points. That's the game right there folks. Much like the Bucks, the Heat often struggle to execute in the half court. When you make their lives easier with live ball turnovers and fouls, you get a half like we saw in this game. All that shit is self inflicted and that's what makes it so frustrating. Rob repeatedly getting the ball stripped on dump offs down low, lazy passing, the formula is pretty simple. When this team takes care of the ball, they win. When they don't, they lose.

- Speaking of self inflicted wounds, you could say missing 8 FTs sort of sealed their fate. Is it fatigue? What the fuck is going on from the line recently. Every game we're seeing the Celts, who essentially all season were the best FT shooting team in the NBA, miss 5, 6, 7 FTs in a game. Jaylen missed 4 by himself. He and Tatum combined to miss 6 of the 8. I don't think I have to tell you how inexcusable that is. Leaving that many points on the board is asking to get beat. The fouls/FTA were even for both sides, so it's not like the Celts weren't getting their own share of calls. The difference was MIA went 30-34 and you went 24-32. 

Just add it all up. 18 points off TOs and 8 missed FTs in a game you lost by 11. That's losing basketball so it should be no surprise in what the result ended up being. To me, this is just a focus issue. Jaylen clearly doesn't have confidence at the line right now, but against a team like MIA, on the road, you cannot lose your mental focus. That is how mistakes and missed FTs happen, and that shit snowballs. 

As a team, the Celts are shooting 79.9% from the line this postseason (81.6% during the year). In the 8 games since the MIL series started, that number is down to 78.5%. In their last 3 games, that number is 71.2%. That is nowhere near good enough.

- While I thought he did well as a passer once he touched the paint (4 assists), unfortunately with no Smart they really needed a better version of Derrick White. There was just no real offensive threat. Getting only 3 points from that slot was tough because they really needed someone other than Rob to be that secondary scorer in the starting unit. We can't have situations where White has 2x the TOs to FGM, and he had all sorts of issues with Tyler Herro in their limited matchups.

- I was honestly shocked to see the Celts play so much drop against Herro given everything we experienced in 2020. Maybe that was because Smart/Al were out, but that shit has to stop. The Celts kept doing it early and that's what allowed the Heat to close the initial gap. It's just not a smart strategy against someone that is comfortable in the midrange/floater zone either as a scorer or facilitator. You really have to play Herro at the level and figure the rest out after. 

- You have to credit MIA in a sense that every time the Celts made a run and got things to 10, the Heat called a timeout and then immediately buried backbreaking threes. With about 8 minutes left they made three consecutive shots (2 were 3PA) to extend the lead again. At the 3 minute mark with the deficit at 10, they did it again with a Strus three. Coming back from down 20 requires you to pretty much be nails defensively, and the Celts were never able to get those types of consecutive defensive stops in big moments to help them get over the hump. 

That's the danger you face when you're on the road, you play like assholes to dig yourself a big hole, and then the role players feel good because the home crowd is giving them life. It's why possessions at this stage are so important. 

The Ugly

- It may not appear this way if you didn't watch the game and just saw their box score lines, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were brutal. I dunno how else to say it. Jimmy Butler outplayed them both. With Jaylen, it was early struggles. With Tatum, it was one of the worst second halfs I've ever seen him play. How many times have we seen him go an entire half and make just 1 FGM? Not only that, but it was their best players that ultimately put the nail in the coffin. How else do you explain this

That was the game right there. The worst part was this came AFTER Ime took multiple timeouts to tell his team to stop playing like assholes and to hold onto the ball. We need to be able to trust that Tatum will not pass the ball to the other team 3 times in 33 seconds. This team won't win shit if Tatum turns the ball over 7 times and Jaylen is missing FTs and has issues defending. 

Here's the good news. They both owned up to it

which has me confident in their ability to right this wrong and bounce back. It goes without saying that if this team wants to make the Finals, they cannot have their two best players play so poorly. Everything starts and ends with them. For whatever reason, after the first half they stop imposing their will. Instead, they let Jimmy Butler do it. 

- Alright, let's just get this over with. What the fuck was that third quarter. I'll tell you what it was. It was the worst quarter the Celtics have played in any game (regular season or postseason) in 4 years. To lose a quarter by 25 points is so insane it still doesn't seem real. They shot 2-15, they had 8 TOs, and I couldn't help but notice it was very similar to another ECF game against this Heat team. Does this look familiar to you?

Let's compare that to what we saw last night

Unreal. That first picture was Game 2 of the 2020 ECF. Maybe this is just what has to happen to finally defeat this playoff demon. You nee to relive the same type of collapse and heartbreak as before, but now it's how you respond. I dunno, I'm thinking of anything right now because I cannot believe the Celts blew this game because they couldn't not lose a quarter by 25 points. 

For a team that was so good in the 3rd all year long, the Celts are averaging just 26 points in the 3rd this postseason (11th) while shooting 42.1% (14th) and 30% from three (13th). They average 4.1 TOs (3rd most), and are a -1.2 in that frame. The Heat? They lead the playoff field at a +7.8 in the 3rd. 

To put this into perspective, during the season the Celts were 2nd in the NBA in 3rd quarter scoring (29.2) and their +2.7 +/- trailed only GS (+2.8). Third quarters are where this team usually thrives, but ever since the MIL series they can't seem to find ways to win the quarter coming out of the half. That needs to be addressed immediately. 

I know there's a chance you're frustrated right now, I know I am. I can handle losing a game if you play well and things just don't go your way. But losing like this is the type of shit that ruins my life. Turnovers, missed FTs, inexplicable play, it's all maddening.

The good news is this team rarely loses 2 games in a row. They've taken punches to the chin all postseason and done nothing but punch back. Win Game 2 and the entire energy of the series shifts. Everything is still in front of them as long as they are able to put this shit behind them and get back to playing smart basketball. All you have to do is play your normal game and that will be enough. But now you have the challenge of a motivated Heat team that drew first blood. They've never lost a playoff series in their history up 2-0, so safe to say tomorrow is pretty fucking important.