Well, that wasn't exactly the best trip to Florida now was it. First, an ass kicking by the Magic (again) where the Celts had every opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter only to go half a quarter without scoring to blow it. Then last night, a game in which they were in control for about 41 minutes despite all of their players being out, they once again shit their pants with 7 minutes left only to lose in extremely frustrating fashion.
The Celts finished their little mini road trip 1-2 which is pretty gross considering who they played and the fact that all 3 were winnable, and after winning 9 straight the Celts have now dropped their last two. That's been a trend basically all season when you look at their schedule. In late October they dropped two straight and then went 18-3. Then in early December they dropped a few in a row and won 4 straight. Then in early January, they lost 2 in a row and then won 9 straight. I'm not sure if that even means anything, but I did find it interesting.
In terms of last night, the final regular season meeting between the Celts and Heat (2-2) obviously has disclaimers. The Celts without Smart, Jaylen, Brogdon, Horford, and the Heat without Jimmy. I think it's fair to say things are different for both sides if everyone plays, and it's unfortunate that we might not see that unless these two face off again in the playoffs.
From Boston's perspective, while I think it's important to have a level head and realize that those 4 are pretty important players, it's also a fact that the Celts had enough on the floor to win this game. They choked. Plain and simple. I'm someone who thinks it's OK to tell the truth and acknowledge that while also understanding not having 4 of your top 7 rotation players isn't exactly the same as having a performance like this with all your guys active.
The frustration for me at least is the fact that no matter who was on the floor last night, we saw the Celts lose a game in a very familiar fashion. There were players on the floor last night that will be getting playoff minutes, and a lack of execution is a lack of execution no matter who you have out there. If they were good enough to build a double digit 4th quarter lead, they were good enough to close it out over the final 7 minutes.
Instead, they choked. They were careless. They got what was coming to them.
So let's talk about it.
- It would be wrong to say Jayson Tatum was bad in this game. On a night where everyone knew he would command all the defensive attention, Tatum again responded for the most part.
For those who cry about his efficiency, he finished 9-18 (2-5). The Celts are not in this game if not for Tatum's performance, that's all true. The balance he had between being a scorer and a facilitator, it was exactly what the team needed given who was available. His first half of basketball was about as flawless as you could ask for (21/5/4 with 2 TOs) and it was a huge reason why they had an 8 point lead at the break.
In fact, this was basically his GS performance only with better efficiency.
Here's the thing though. When it mattered most, Tatum was careless. Just like GS. That's what makes these performances so tricky. For all the good Tatum did in this game, his fingerprints were all over the plays that ended up costing them a win. He both carried the team and boned the team all in the same game.
That's why if you want to tell the truth about Tatum's performance, he was good, but he also had very very bad moments that you simply cannot have as the best player. The late game decision making has been an issue for a few games now, and we're seeing that when you're careless in these big moments it sort of undoes all the good you managed to do in the previous 3 quarters. That has to be figured out.
- With so many guys out, the "others" were going to have to step up, and that's exactly what Derrick White did. His 23 points were the most we've seen Derrick score since he had 26 against the Pelicans on 11/18, and I'd say almost everything about his performance was what you wanted to see
Active on both ends, another block at the rim, great ball movement and ball security, it was very clear from the start of this game that White was engaged and ready to assume more of a scoring role. His 17 FGA tied for the most he's taken this season (ORL on 10/22), and he did it by attacking the paint first, and shooting 3s later. It's no secret that when White touches the paint good things tend to happen, whether it's a kick out to a shooter or a play at the rim. His floater looked great which is good to see since that's a huge weapon for him offensively, and it was a relief that his neck issue isn't anything to worry about.
I would have loved some points in the 4th, but we're going to get to that in just a little bit.
- For a guy who just hyperextended his knee, I thought Rob looked great. He's honestly the only person I'm not really mad at after last night. His bounce looks quick, his timing is getting better and better, and he was one of the few starters who actually had a positive +/- in his 31 minutes.
That 31 number is the highest Rob has played since his return by the way. That tells me there's nothing to worry about with his knee, which I think we can all agree is the most important thing for this team.
- It's hard for me to fathom that the Celts lost a game in which they kept a team to under 100 points on 36/36% splits. The defense showed up for the most part. I don't care who was out, there was enough talent out there to win a game in which the opponent did not break 100. If the Celts consistently defend like this, they'll be fine.
- That's really it. Outside of those things, everything pretty much stunk. We can move on.
- It's not exactly a hot take to suggest that to win on the road while being shorthanded, the role players need to overachieve. It's not like they shouldn't be fresh, most of them barely play. Unfortunately, that didn't really happen.
Payton Pritchard, for all he does, is not really an offense creator. He's a catch and shoot guy. His role shifted a little bit in this game, and by the end he had no legs whatsoever, finishing 4-14 (2-8). That was tough.
Then you add in someone like Grant, who for the second straight game was pretty brutal. I know he hit the huge three to tie them at 95, but I thought his decision making was not where it needed to be. Too often we saw him put the ball on the floor and force things, trying to make plays that simply weren't there. Outside of Tatum's 7 TOs, Grant was next with 4. If you compare the ORL/MIA versions to what we saw from Grant in TOR, they are completely different players.
Next, there was Sam Hauser. Defensively I thought Hauser held his own. Two blocks, a steal, some good positional defense, that was all fine. But let's be clear about something. Sam Hauser is not there to defend, he's there to make shots. Unfortunately, he went 0-6 (0-5). He in fact did not make a single shot, pretty much all of which were wide open. That…can't happen.
So add it all up. Those three role guys combined to score 20 points on 7-26 (5-15) shooting. Call me crazy, but 26/33% is pretty shitty. Compare that to the Heat role guys and it was a bloodbath. Bench points were 39-10. 39-10!!!
- If you're Justin Jackson, you never play, and your roster spot is on the bubble, do you think maybe you should actually try and play hard as shit or do something like this?
This sequence probably sealed his fate in my opinion. I don't mean to sound mean, but what exactly does he do at an NBA level. I know we're talking about the last roster spot here, but I think we've all seen enough to know that Brad should probably look to replace it. He didn't play many minutes, but the ones he did play were pretty terrible.
- I'm not sure how many times the Celts have to live through this before it starts to hit home that they need to take care of the fucking ball. We're currently in the middle of a horrendous trend of poor ball security and a ton of points allowed off turnovers. That shit is losing basketball. Just see for yourself
It should be no surprise that the Celts either fell down by double digits, lost, or both in all of these games. When the Celts are this careless with the basketball it overshadows all the good they do. The worst part is almost all of these turnovers continue to be live ball turnovers, which only gives the other team confidence. The Heat couldn't score in the halfcourt to save their lives, but if you give them easy buckets via transition because you can't hold onto the ball, you're asking to lose.
From Tatum to Grant to Rob, it was a problem up and down the roster and the Celts paid the price. It's really not that hard, when the Celts don't turn it over 17+ times, they almost never lose. They are 31-9 this season when committing under 17 TOs. They're 28-5 when that number is under 15. This is nothing new, and something this team should know by now, ESPECIALLY against a team like MIA. Does nobody remember the ECF?
- 6 missed FTs in a game you lost by 3. Tatum with 3 by himself. That's fun.
- Aside from TOs, the other crucial area the Celts need to make sure they show up in is rebounding, especially defensive rebounding. When they don't, and they allow teams to have 2nd and 3rd chances, they tend to run into trouble.
Well, the Heat finished with 14 OREB which led by 16 2nd chance points. In the 4th quarter, they had 2 huge OREBs. These are the small mental mistakes that add up over the course of a game, so when it comes to self inflicted wounds, the Celts gave up 17 off TOs and 16 off 2nd chance points. That's 33 points. Said another way, it accounted for 33% of the Heat's offense. So when I say this was the ECF all over again, it really was. They did the same shit in that series as we saw last night.
- I mean, the entire 4th quarter. What else needs to be said? Let's take it from the top.
Things started with Tatum on the bench which was absolutely terrifying. At that point with the Celts up 7, all I'm looking for it to just survive those non Tatum minutes. In the first 3ish minutes, they were 1-5 (0-4) from the floor, yet after this play to Rob
the non Tatum 4th quarter lineup built a 10 point 4th quarter lead. That came with 8:46 left. Tatum re-entered the game 1 minute later with the Celts up 7. So, the non Tatum lineup managed to be even in those 4ish minutes. That's a win.
The bad news is after that Rob dunk, everything and I mean everything went to hell. In just 2 minutes, the Heat went on a 10-0 run to tie the game. Joe called a timeout. Coming out of that timeout is where we had two brutal plays in a row, which sort of started to tilt this game in MIA's favor. Quite frankly, these are bunnies you need to make
This is what I mean when I talk about late game execution. Momentum is starting to shift and these are point blank shots, both brutal misses.
Until Tatum's floater AND1 at the 2:19 mark, the Celts went 5 FUCKING MINUTES without a point. Again. This is the same shit we saw against the Magic when they scored 3 points in 6 quarters. Back to back choke jobs in the 4th quarter is inexcusable, especially when this exact lineup was good enough to built that double digit lead in the first place.
- Then, we had the final play. Let's watch.
Immediately fans cried that Joe didn't call a timeout. I'm not sure why, that shit happens all the time in the NBA. I'm pretty sure Joe didn't need a timeout to tell his players to not throw it to the other team. We've seen Tatum dissect that EXACT double a million times a game, in this instance, he simply made a bad read. Herro read his eyes, and he should have just kicked the ball to White. Tatum said as much after the game
Even if Joe had taken a timeout, it's still on the players to execute. That's why I don't get the anger toward Joe, this was a player execution issue. We should be at a point where with the game on the line we can trust Jayson to make the right play. Joe said after the game he probably should have called something different, and that's fine. People need to remember that taking a timeout also allows the Heat to regroup defensively, there's no guarantee that it would have worked out. If Tatum had made that shot or made a play that resulted in a game winner, nobody would be crying about a lack of a timeout,
It's OK to say the player fucked up, because he did. The thing is, this final possession doesn't even matter if the team as a whole didn't choke the entire 4th quarter, Tatum included. His 4th quarter was horrendous by anyone's standards, and that can't happen. Add this to the GS ending, and this is something that very clearly needs to be figured out. Teams are going to double Tatum at the end of these close games. The ball has to be in his hands given his talent, but he cannot keep making these poor decisions in the biggest moments. Period.
- Just 34/21% shooting with 11 TOs in the 2nd half. That was gross. 37 points in 24 minutes is pretty terrible, especially when you had 58 in the first half. They finished 23/20% in the 4th, with 3 TOs and just 5 FGM. No shit you choked a game away doing that.
The Celts now head home for a pretty big homestand, but the teams they'll be facing are also pretty good, so for my money this is another big time stretch.
It's now on this team to stop the bleeding and make sure things don't snowball. They've done it every time so far this season, but it's going to take a much better effort than we saw in their last two games that's for sure.