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There Is Absolutely Nothing Like The Pain Of A Crushing Playoff Collapse That Potentially Puts Your Season In Jeopardy

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

I don't even really know what to say. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I didn't sleep a wink last night. Every time I closed by eyes, I saw Trae Young's game winner, and for some reason, my brain thought that if it replayed that shot enough, maybe it would miss at some point? Sadly, that's not how it works.

This certainly was not the first time we've seen the Celtics puke on themselves and collapse, resulting in an inexcusable and extremely frustrating loss, and it certainly won't be the last. Through all the different eras, coaches, rosters, and schemes, one thing remains true.

The Boston Celtics refuse to make life easy on themselves.

It's one thing to be doing that shit in January. It's another when you move into late April and you're in a playoff series. Honestly, I think part of the reason last night stung so much was it felt way too similar to Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Just don't play dumb a shit, and you win. The Celts were the only 3-1 team to not end their series last night, and they have no one to blame but themselves. I'm sorry, but this is a game you should be able to close out

A 94% win probability with 4 minutes to go, this is when the Celts need to be at their best. You did it, you put yourself in a position to close out this series and move on, just finish strong.

Instead? They did the complete opposite. Bonehead mistake after bonehead mistake, this did not look like a team that learned anything from their previous failures. From the best player on down, everyone shit the bed at the worst possible time. When you get a chance to eliminate someone or step on their throat, in the playoffs you HAVE to do it. By my count, the Celts are now 0 for 2 in those opportunities in this series. First Game 3, and now last night. The more life and confidence you give an opponent, the more risk you take. The Hawks went from Cancun to back in their own building with all the confidence in the world. One weird shooting night and now you're season is on the line with a do or die Game 7.

THAT is why last night was so fucked. 

So while the series isn't over obviously, and the Celts are still in a position to close it out, the fact that they are still playing at all is what is most annoying. At home, up 10 with 4 mintues to go, Hawks without their 2nd best player and you can't close that out? Grow the fuck up.

The Good

- In a closeout game, your best players need to step up and end things. We saw it in Denver with Jokic, we saw it in PHX with Devin Booker, and for the Celts we partially got it. Jaylen Brown showed up and played like he was ready to end this series for about 95% of the game

35/7/5 on 15-23 (4-7), I would argue that Jaylen was probably their best player on the floor last night in his 38 minutes. When you're in these type of closeout games, your approach is so important. You need to find ways to get to your spots and be efficient, and that's what Jaylen did.

He led the team with 15 drives and was 7-11 on those drives. He had 20 points in the paint by himself, which was a career high. When they needed big shots, Jaylen delivered. All series he's been great at using his speed and strength to get to the rim and finish in the paint, where he's averaging 15.6 points. Unfortunately, his 4th quarter (more on this later) sort of undid everything positive we saw, but you'd be lying if you said that Jaylen didn't carry this team for the majority of the game. He gave the Celts enough to close out this series, period.

- The same is true for Derrick White, who has probably been the best overall guard on this roster through 5 games

Efficiency? Check. Derrick finished 7-11 (2-5). Ball security? Check. Derrick finished with 0 TOs. Good defense? Check. Having the stones to step up to the line and make your FTs to give your team a chance to win? Check. Derrick nailed them both. 

It's rather annoying to keep wasting these solid Derrick performances. A team best +9 in his 31 minutes, he led all guards in minutes played, and rightfully so. This also includes the 4th quarter where he led all 3 guards in minutes as well and went 2-3 (2-2) with 0 TOs. Everything we could ask of Derrick, he's providing.

- When the Celts got their initial separation, it was really due to one guy and one guy only. What Malcolm Brogdon did in that 2nd quarter was exactly why they brought him in.

14/3/3 on 6-12 (1-5) with 0 TOs in his 25 minutes, he was huge in the first half. The second half not so much (1-4, 0-2), but overall? Brogdon gave this team exactly what you ask from him. No turnovers, and he led all bench scorers for either team with 14 points. That should be enough.

I loved the way he came in and right away was aggressive at getting to his spots, and that's obviously something that is going to need to happen tomorrow night as well. The Hawks do not have the perimeter defenders to stay with any of these guys, so I loved the fact that Brogdon didn't settle. He's going to be able to get into the paint/midrange whenever he wants, and I expect him to continue to excel from that zone.

- Offensively, the Celts checked a lot of boxes that usually lead to wins. They scored 117 points, shot 53% from the floor, finished with 31 assists and only 9 TOs, and won the rebounding battle. I guess maybe that's why the result is so frustrating, because this is now the 2nd time this series where offensively they did enough to win, but it was the other end that killed them.

The Bad

- Which is why we may as well start with that end of the floor for this section. In the playoffs, if you don't defend, you die. Pretty simple. In Game 3, I thought the defense was OK, the Hawks just went crazy on contested makes. Last night? That is not what we saw. Their 19 3PM were the most they've made all season, and of their 41 3PA, a total of 26 of them were deemed "wide open". The Hawks finished 14-26 on those shots (53.8%). Another 11 were deemed "open", but ATL shot just 3-11 on those. 

How many times did we see a Hawks player take a 3PA with absolutely zero contests? Way too often. I'm not talking about the Trae 30 foot bombs either. Obviously, those are going to be open. It shouldn't surprise anyone that leaving guys wide the fuck open is going to help their confidence, and that's exactly what happened.

Hunter/Collins/Bey/Bogdanovic finished 12-23 from deep, and I would bet nearly zero of them were strongly contested. That's just energy and effort. 

How bad has the Celtics defense been in both of these loses? I'm not sure horrific even begins to describe it

I'm not sure what you expect to happen when you only play 12 minutes of defense in a 48 minute game. To then also have your worst defensive quarter in the ONE quarter you can't lose, only makes it more frustrating. 

They allowed another 17 2nd chance points in this game, something that has plagued them the entire series. How they still haven't realized that when a team starts 6-11 from deep and is feeling good, maybe stop giving them extra possessions? How many more games do they have to lose before they figure that shit out?

- When the Celts are at their best, they play fast. They get out on the break and play with pace. The fact that they had a 20-0 fastbreak points difference was a huge part of why they had a lead to begin with.

So why, for the love of Christ, do they decide to stop playing that way at the worst possible time? We saw it with Brad, we saw it with Ime, and we see it with Joe. In fact, they had only 4 fastbreak points the entire second half! 

To me, this is mostly a Tatum issue. Every single time the Celts have a lead and they shift to Point Tatum, things slow down. It almost never works. I can understand wanting your best player to have the ball down the stretch, but there has to be other ways to make that happen. Walking the ball up, not getting sets started until 11-12 seconds, no movement, the Celts simply become easy to guard when they do that shit. 

These players have been together long enough and been through enough playoff battles to the point where they should know how to execute at the end of these games. Especially Tatum. The fact that he played with zero urgency, even as the lead was dwindelling is largely why they lost this game. You have 3 POINT GUARDS on this roster, it's OK to let them initiate offense down the stretch! White, Smart, Brogdon, I don't give a shit, just pick one! 

If you look at most of the Celts collapses in recent years, a lot of them start with Point Tatum walking the ball up/slowing down to kill clock. You don't do that shit with 6 minutes left, you do that with like 2 minutes left. That's Day 1 stuff.

- I'm asked sometimes why I obsess so much about FTs. Well, last night shows why. They are important.

To finish 7-13, and 4 of those 5 misses coming in the 4th quarter, with 3 of those coming from Jaylen Brown, is how collapses happen. Make your FTs, you win the game. It's that simple. You know who did? The Hawks. They went 10-10 including a perfect 5-5 in the 4th quarter. Imagine that! 

- Al Horford did a lot of things well in this game. What I do not understand is why he was so afraid to shoot the ball? There were two instances that really stood out, where he didn't even look at the rim despite being right fucking there

The first one he instead passed it to Hauser who missed the 3PA, and the second he passed to Blake who missed the runner. Al, I am begging you. Take the hook shot. You can do it! Be aggressive! 

Defensively Al has been great shit series, but they need something from him offensively. Just 11 points on 4-14 (3-11) these past 3 games, that's not good enough. He can't be passing up point blank looks at this point. 

The Ugly

- We'll get to the collapse in a moment, but we begin this section with the overall play of Jayson Tatum. The numbers were gross at just 8-22 (1-10), and pretty much everything about his performance was confusing to me. In a closeout game, settling for jumpers on a night where your jumper is broken is just dumb basketball. In Game 4, we saw Tatum be aggressive, and he finished 11-12 from the FT line. Last night? 


Two fucking FTs. In the 4th quarter while things were getting tight, what did we see?

Two FGA, none in the paint. No FTA. In no world is that acceptable.

Now maybe you'll say "well Greenie, he was doubled!" Which is true. But this is the problem with Tatum's lack of aggression. He just waited around for that double to come. There was no quick decisions, there was no aggressive approach. His brutal 4th quarter TO is a perfect example of that

Why not utilize your dribble in that spot? Why not make a quick move the second you get the ball because you know the Hawks are bringing two? It's fucking Bogan Bogdanovic in front of you with Trae on the strong side. Make a strong move and either get to the rim or hit Al in the corner. Instead, Tatum just stood there and allowed that double to come.

Add in his brutal tech which absolutely cannot happen in that spot, it was a disaster final quarter for Tatum at a time when the team needed their best player to show up. 

Honestly, he's been pretty shitty in each of the last 3 games, 2 of which are now losses. He's shooting just 39/26% during this span with 3.0 TOs a game. He's too important to be throwing up tour dates as shooting performances, and that's what we've had in each of the last 3

Game 3: 9-22 (4-11)

Game 4: 8-20 (4-13)

Game 5: 8-21 (1-10)

Basically, if Tatum can just be normal from the floor, this series is over. The fact that he never changed his approach and got to the line despite his jumper being broken is a huge issue. He has to be able to change things up based on what is or isn't working. It felt like he was going for the homerun play down the stretch instead of just getting the best possible shot, and that almost always ends in disaster.

- As poor as Tatum's final 6 minutes were, they were not as bad as the final 3:26 we saw from Marcus Smart. All game Smart had been pretty solid. He was 4-8 from the floor and didn't have a turnover. But then he checked in at 3:26, and everything went to hell. Just some of the most braindead mistakes you'll ever see.

Immediately following that horrible Tatum turnover, the VERY NEXT POSSESSION we got the same thing from Smart

I'm not even really sure what he saw, because I'm pretty positive even without Trae tipping that pass, Hunter steals it anyway. Al was right there in the corner, so that probably should have been a fake to Tatum and then kick over to Al for the corner 3PA. Of course, the Hawks went to hit 3s after both of those TOs because that's how it works.

Sadly, we weren't done. Just a few minutes later while still clinging onto a small lead, we had another terrible mistake

Part of me hates even running a high screen in this spot. Not only do you leave it up to chance that the ref calls a foul, it also brings another defender into the mix even if a foul isn't called. All series long the Celts have struggled to set screens, and the refs have made this call in all 5 games. If you're going to set a pick, you better be DAMN sure you're set and stationary. Is it maybe a bullshit call in that spot? Maybe, but don't even put yourself in that position. 

Sadly, we weren't done. Just a few minutes later while clington onto a small lead, we had another terrible instance of poor situational awareness

I get it, if Smart makes that steal, the game is over. It's a huge play. I just don't think the reward outweighs the risk, especially when you are in the bonus. Jaylen summed it up perfectly when the camera showed him after that play and he said "why did we foul?". Again, even if you think this was maybe a soft call, I'm not sure that matters. Just play defense straight up for one possession. When you leave things up to the official's discretion, you're asking for trouble. There was no need for it. Again, if he gets that steal we all love it, myself especially. But I just don't love gambling in that spot when you don't need to. It's not like the Celts were down and needed a steal, they just needed a stop.

- Now, the big topic of course is why Joe had Smart in during the final 3 minutes instead of someone like Brogdon, but I'm not sure that's the right process. The decision wasn't bad, the execution was. Joe took Smart out at the 1:30 mark, the Celts got nothing and then he came back in on that jump ball that Rob got the alley-oop on. It was clear that given how the Brogdon/White backcourt was getting lit up in that quarter, Joe wanted to throw out his best defenders down the stretch

Unfortunately, those players shit themselves and did not execute. That's not really a coaching issue, that's a player execution issue. 

- Why Jaylen gave Young so much space on that game winner I'll never understand. Everyone on the planet knew he was going for the stepback game winner. Everyone. Credit to him for making it but man, that was bad. I'm also surprised we didn't see White get that assignment since he's probably been their best perimeter defender this series. 

And so now here we are. A series that should be over is still very much alive, and ALL of the pressure is now on the Celts to close this out on the road. Their entire season is now somewhat at risk, all because they couldn't hold on for 4 minutes of play. That is so fucking annoying, and so very Celtics. We've seen them respond before, so now it's time to do it again.

Love and Trust,