Without a doubt, this is the blog I dread writing the most every season. This year, it happened much later than previous seasons, but it hurts all the same. In fact, it hurts more if we're being honest. But before we dive into the pain, I first have to get something off my chest.
It's as simple as that. Without you all, even the ones who come to this blog to troll and tell me I and the Celtics suck, there is no me. This was for sure one of the craziest seasons of our lives, and going through those ups and downs on the blog/Twitter with you all made it unlike any season I've experienced since I first started this dream life in 2015. Every pageview, every interaction, I could not be more grateful. The best part of this job is living through these seasons with people who are just as mentally deranged (ok maybe not that bad) as I am. We win together and we lose together and that's never going to change. We have a lot to get through and it's going to blind you with rage, so I wanted to make sure to start the blog with this in the event it's the only thing you can bring yourself to read. Thank you. If we ever cross paths one day, beers are on me.
Alright, let us begin
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There is no better feeling than seeing your favorite team win a championship. It's life changing. There's never a guarantee that you'll ever experience it, and sometimes you can go a lifetime without experiencing that level of joy. In the same breath, there is absolutely nothing worse than seeing your team come up short. That is equally as life changing but in all the worst ways. When you are that close to glory only to choke it away or come up empty handed, it feels like death. You feel that shit in every ounce of your being. It sticks with you for a long time. Hell, I'm still not even really over the pain of 2010 and I now have to add this new layer to that shit sandwich. But that's the beauty of sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It's a sickness, but the quest to feel the joy of a title is why we all invest so much into this stuff. When it works out, you're on top of the world.
But for the 14th consecutive season since the 2008 Celtics title, it did not work out. It got close, there was an opportunity for it to end how we all may have wanted, but the Warriors were the better team in this series. They figured the Celts out and stepped up time and time again to rip the title from their hands. There's no shame in losing to a healthy Warriors team on the surface, but even knowing that, it was the way in which the Celts lost these Finals that causes so much frustration and pain. It was right there for the taking, just 2 more wins was all they needed and they couldn't get out of their own way. That's going to be the reality for the rest of time, and something you really only avenge by going out and winning a title.
There of course will be a lot of talk/slander about this team and the players on it over these next few days. Their window will be closed, everyone in the East will be better but Boston blah blah blah. It's whatever. People are mad, they say things that clearly are not true here on planet earth, and it's the price you pay when you blow a Finals. These next few days are not a time where people want to talk about perspective. We're emotional. We're upset. We're frustrated. Losing in the Finals fucking sucks no matter how it happens.
I'll probably have another blog where we can talk about the actual journey and have some proper perspective on what the fuck just happened, but that is not what this blog is for. You don't want to, I don't want to, but the time has come to relive and dive into one of the most painful losses of our lives.
- I think for me, part of the pain of this Finals loss is rooted in how badly I wanted this shit for Al Horford. I don't know what I expected when Brad first traded for Al last summer, but it sure as shit was not the season we got. He was incredible. To do what he did at his age was one of the coolest things I've seen a Celtics player do. Even after having a pretty down Finals after Game 1, Al did everything he possibly could to will this team back in that 3rd quarter. I can say with confidence that the Celtics are not even in this position without the play of Al, and the fact that they came up short for him fucking sucks.
19/14/2/2/1 on 6-8 (4-5) in 39 minutes, Al was easily one of the few guys last night that fought until the end. When this team looked dead in the water, it was Al that refused to quit. He picked the perfect time to find his shot again, defensively he looked 27 years old at times, and even after what was probably the most crushing loss of his career, this is all he had to say
I love this man. It kills me that they let him down and couldn't close the deal to bring him the title he so fully deserves. There's certainly a legit question as to what version of Al we get next year given his age, but after the season he just had I have no reason to think he won't be just as awesome next year. He's the perfect fit for this team, for how they play, and all I can say is that my heart breaks for him.
- Along these same lines, I could not be more proud of Rob. He's another guy that not only has insane talent, but you can tell he truly cares. With everything he's gone through injury wise, watching what he did last night has me so excited for his future
10/7/2 with 5 blocks on 4-8 shooting in his 32 minutes, Rob left everything he had on that floor in this game. Considering this was the first season we saw Rob play real minutes, my main takeaway from his year is that he's very clearly a pillar of this team moving forward. Remember, he's only 24. The impact he makes on both ends is undeniable. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He makes his FTs. But most importantly, Rob gives a shit. He's honestly a big man version of Smart in that sense. Rob cares and is willing to do whatever he possibly can to help this team win. Sacrifice his body, guard whoever, it doesn't matter.
So just like with Al, it sucks that his performance last night was wasted. One of the few guys who played like they actually gave a shit. When we talk about the bright future of this team, a big part of that is the continued development of Rob. He proved this season that he is among the best centers in the NBA. Just imagine what he's going to look like at age like….26. Not only that, but he also easily has the best contract in basketball moving forward. You're getting All NBA caliber defense for basically half the price of what that normally costs at that position.
- In a game in which your season is on the line, part of the deal is your best players need to step up and carry. If they don't, your season is over. Look at what happened with GS and their best players last night and look at the result. For the Celtics, they got that from Jaylen
When I look back on Jaylen's night, there are a few things that are true. His turnovers were a huge problem and definitely played a factor in how this game went. It was a problem all playoffs and it showed up again in Game 6. But you know what's also true? Jaylen stepped up. He didn't lay an egg. You go out and put up 34/7/3 on 12-23 (5-11) and essentially match Steph Curry (34/7/7 on 12-21, 6-11) in my opinion you do not get the label as someone who didn't show up in the biggest moment of the season. In fact, it's the opposite.
If anything, Jaylen showed us exactly why he's a franchise guy. Why he's not a #2, he's more of a 1B who on any given night can look like a 1A. If the Celts had pulled this off, Jaylen is easily the Celts MVP and I don't think that's even really debatable at this point. When he played poorly, he owned it and vowed to be better, and then was. When it came time to showing up in big moments on the floor, Jaylen answered the call more often than not. That's my biggest takeaway for Jaylen after this playoff run. He's that guy. There is no doubt in my mind that he's going to come back better next season because it's what he's done every year of his career. Tighten up that handle, improve your passing/decision making and the sky is the limit. What we don't have to do is worry or question whether or not Jaylen can be one of your best players. He passed that test this season with flying colors.
- Part of what makes this all so maddening is how great this team looked to open this game. They were flawless on both ends. It looked like they cracked the code to some degree offensively by using Smart in the post to create for the Jays as opposed to them dribbling into traffic. Why they went away from that I'll never understand, but that 14-2 run to open the game was some of the best basketball they've played all season.
Unfortunately, NBA games are not 4 minutes long, as much as we wish they maybe were.
- OK, that's enough. We don't need to make shit up to avoid the pain any longer.
- In looking back, there's one moment where you could make the case that this game changed. For me, it was right here
Now you may be asking, "Greenie, why are you showing a random 1st quarter Smart foul?"
Pretty simple. Smart was subbed out after that play with 3:06 in the first quarter with the Celts leading 20-14. Their lineup was Pritchard/White/Jaylen/Tatum/Rob moving forward. Over the next 3 minutes with Smart off the floor, the Warriors closed the quarter on a 13-2 run. Here were the offensive possessions over that stretch
Tatum made jumper
Tatum missed 3PA
White missed 3PA
White blocked layup
Pritchard missed 3PA
That lineup had a -100 net rating during that stretch. At the 2 minute mark after the Jaylen TO, Grant came in for Jaylen when it was 22-18. That lineup had a -200 net rating over the final 2 minutes. Suddenly they went away from everything that worked for them offensively and instead either settled or turned the ball over. With White's missed layup/turnover at the 3:11 mark, it enabled the Warriors to get into transition, and Smart was caught on an island and fouled. A close call, but a foul you expect to be called in that situation. That's what started the entire energy shift and the Celts never really recovered. By the end of the quarter, a 12 point lead was a 5 point deficit and that was only the beginning.
- When you blow your opportunities against the Warriors, you're asking for trouble. Everyone on the planet knew that going in, and the second quarter certainly validated that way of thinking. What else can you say about a 21-0 run? To let that happen on your home floor in the biggest game of the year is beyond inexcusable. The Celts allowed the Warriors to regain some life to end the 1st, and then followed it up with this
Please look at that graphic in detail. 7 FGM, 8 TOs and 41/16% splits. The Celtics didn't score until 9:59 in the quarter, and had two separate 2 minute scoring droughts in the first 4 minutes of the quarter. How is that even possible? When start the quarter missing layups, missing threes, and turning the ball over, it was 37-22 before you even knew what happened.
This is where you have to credit GS. They dug themselves out of their early hole, got some life and then maximized their opportunity. The Celts responded by playing like assholes, which we know is their kiss of death. How many times did they need to see the Warriors go on runs before they realize that turning the ball over like this is actually bad? On what planet does having more TOs than FGM seem like a successful approach.
- It's no accident that this game changed in that quarter when Ime had to go to the bench. While things start and end with your best players, there's no denying that the end of these Finals was largely impacted by the play of both benches. Over Games 4, 5 and 6, the Warriors "others" stepped up. For the Celts, their bench completely disappeared to the point where they actually were doing more harm than good. I dunno how else to say it. Part of what made this team so successful was the fact that they were getting legit production not just from the starting five, but their role players. You know what that doesn't look like? This
It doesn't matter what the starters do if the 3 main bench rotation players are going to combine to be a -64 in their minutes. Each one of those three were beyond brutal. The thing is, this is also the exact same shit we saw in Game 5. That trio finishes the Finals going 2-19 from the floor over the last two games. 2-19. They were a combined -31 in Game 5, which means over the last two games the three bench rotation players were a -95. You're not winning an NBA title with that. Especially when on the flip side Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II show up. Poole had 15 points and some dagger threes, GPII had only 6 points but also had 3 steals, and combined they were a +29. They dominated their minutes just like they did in Game 5 while the Celts reserves went into witness protection.
It got to the point where you could tell these guys didn't even really want to look to be aggressive. They looked like three guys that lost all of their confidence at the worst possible time. A perfect example is a play like this from Payton
He's not even looking at the rim, and it ends in a live ball turnover aka points for GS.
With White, after his Game 1 performance, he finished the Finals going 12-44 from the floor (27%). In the final 3 losses, it was a brutal 5-22 (22%). You're not going to win with that, plain and simple. It's no surprise how different this team looked when they got actual production from not only White, but those three guys. When they all collectively shit the bed, this is what happens.
- Part of what makes this pain so tough is the uncertainty. You never know when you'll be in this position again. Nothing in the NBA is guaranteed, every season and every series is different. As we know, success is not linear. That's why I think it's OK to realize and understand that big picture the Celts find themselves in a great position moving forward, but in the moment it's extremely frustrating that they blew such a prime opportunity. You have every right to be pissed off with how they played to end this series because let's just call it what it was
That doesn't mean GS didn't earn this win. Of course they did. But when you are up 2-1 in a series and you lose your final 2 games at home to lose an NBA title and your franchise guy is nowhere to be found, that's a choke. Sorry, it is. When you're up late in Game 4 only to close by giving up a 17-3 run, that's a choke. We can now look back at that game as a turning point in the series, and the Celts have no one but themselves to blame for it.
- Of all the inexcusable things we saw in this game, one that really bothered me was the OREB problem. The Celts gave up 15 OREB which led to 21 GS points. They won the 2nd chance points battle 21-13. That shit is about energy and effort. The Warriors clearly wanted it more and played like it. For that to happen on your own floor in the biggest game of the season is pathetic. Looney had 6 OREB by himself. What good are getting initial stops if you're going to just keep giving the Warriors extra possessions. They took 12 more FGA in this game and OREB were certainly a big factor in that. Rob pretty much said it best after the game when he said GS simply played harder. How can you let that happen? Your season was on the line. Christ.
- Listen, Ime is not without blame for how this all went down. He wasn't great to close out this series, but his players also didn't do him any favors. He did what he could in terms of calling timeouts to try and stop the bleeding, but the players never responded. I would say his rotations weren't always ideal, even if he never really had great options to work with.
But when your offense looks so stagnant for so much of this series, part of that falls on Ime. The strategy is on him, just like it was with Brad. Defensively he was nails, I mean the Warriors never scored over 107 in any game in this series, but the offense certainly left more to be desired.
- The one constant throughout these entire playoffs was the reality that if the Celtics did not take care of the basketball, they were cooked. Look at every single one of their losses during this run and you'll see the same story. In these Finals, a time where you absolutely CANNOT be careless with the ball, the Celts had their worst ball security issues of the year
Game 2: 18 TOs
Game 4: 15 TOs
Game 5: 18 TOs
Game 6: 22 TOs
Inexcusable. Literally throwing an NBA title away. That's probably what is most frustrating to me about this series. The thing that we all knew would be their demise ultimately is what brought them down. It was pretty simple. take care of the ball and you win. They were 13-2 with under 16 TOs and ended 1-8 with 16+. The fact that everyone on the planet was aware of this issue and the Celts had their worst TO game in the biggest game of the year is kind of poetic. With how uncertain it is that you'll ever be back, to be this consistently careless with the ball is truly pathetic.
With all the momentum heading into the 4th quarter, the Celts turned the ball over 6 more times in the first 8 minutes. That's losing basketball that will burn you every single time.
Last night, 10 of the 22 came from your two best players. Smart and Horford combined to chip in 6. Even Rob had a couple. In total, the starters combined for 19 of the 22. That's horrific.
- Finally, we can talk about Jayson Tatum. There's going to be a lot of chatter about him as a player, what he can or can't be, it's going to get ridiculous but that's what happens when you don't show up in an NBA Finals.
For the Celts to win this series, they needed Tatum to be the guy he was all season and all playoffs. Instead, he finishes these 6 games with 21.5/6.8/7.0 averages on 36/45% shooting and 3.8 TOs a night. Honestly, that 36% is really only that high because of the 50% he shot in Game 5. In 5 of the 6 games, he shot 42% or lower from the floor, and in 4 of those 5 he shot 39% or lower. That's just not good enough no matter how you slice it. He finished the final 3 games of this series with 15 total TOs. For a high usage player, you can't win with that.
In Game 6, with the Celts holding on for dear life, Tatum finished this game with just 2 points on 1-8 shooting and 2 TOs. He didn't attempt a single FT. When they finally had some momentum in the 4th quarter, Tatum finished 1-4 with a TO. It might not always be fair, but as the franchise guys when you have a Finals like he did and a final game like this, you're going to get slandered. We waited all series for him to snap out of his funk and it never really came, which was obviously an issue.
Where I think things get crazy is people suddenly forget everything that happened up until this point. Like, the Celts are not even in the Finals without Jayson Tatum. We don't need to get crazy. But we also don't need to act like he wasn't dogshit in this series and that ultimately played a huge role in losing the Finals.
It all sucks. It's going to suck for a long time. By my estimation, pretty much the rest of my life. To be 2 wins away from a title only to lose the final 3 is something that you don't get over quickly. I think we all need to go through our own process these next few weeks, but when you're done with that just take a deep breath and remember what we learned this year. The core works. The Celts have the formula to be successful and contend in this league. Now we just have to hope this is just more fuel to the fire, the same way the previous ECF losses were.
If loving and trusting were easy, everyone would do it.
What a season. What a ride. I love you all. I want to die.