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The Celtics Continue To Fuck Around And Once Again They Found Out Exactly Why That Is The Kiss Of Death

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

There's a famous quote that could not be more true when it comes to the 2022-23 Boston Celtics. I'm sure you've heard it before

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

I don't know much about this George Santayana fella, but I have to say he may have been onto something here.

This is not the first time we've seen the Celtics be in this position. At home, with a chance to start a second round series off strong and really put pressure on their opponent. You may remember this from the last time the Celts were in this spot

We literally lived through it just last year. Different roster, different coach, same result. 

The difference this time around though, was the fact that this was against a Sixers team without their best player and league MVP. The reason so many of us were maybe a little nervous was the fact that we've seen what happens any time the Celts are put in this spot. They fuck around. They fuck around more than any team in the NBA since 1990

As you can see, they are not learning from their history, and it keeps repeating itself. Honestly, this loss was basically another carbon copy of what we saw in Game 5 vs ATL. The only problem there is there's a big difference fucking around up 3-1 than when you do it to start a series, but almost everything else between those two performances was identical.

Give up 30+ points in the 1st quarter? Check.

Give up 58 pts in the first half? The Celts gave up 63 last night

Don't defend the arc? The Celts gave up 19-41 against the Hawks and 17-38 last night

Give up 30+ points in the fourth? It was 37 against the Hawks and 32 last night

Fail to execute up 2 possessions with under 2 minutes to go? Yes and Yes.

Play zero defense? The Hawks scored 119 in their win, the Sixers scored 119 in theirs.

Part of the reason this loss is so goddamn annoying is the fact that we LITERALLY just did this not too long ago, in essentially the EXACT same fashion. In that game, it was Trae Young going for 38 points on 14-33 (5-13). Last night it was James Harden going for 45 on 17-30 (7-14). It was the same exact shit. 

It would be wrong to not give Philly credit for this win, they went on the road and made some tough ass shots. James Harden had the best game of his career. Melton went 5-6 from three. Maxey had clutch buckets. They took care of the ball. They earned that win.

You can give them credit and still acknowledge that the Celts blew this game. The defense never really showed up, especially when it needed to late, they were beyond careless with the basketball, and when you keep making the same mistakes that you know lose you basketball games, you shouldn't be surprised when you lose the basketball game. The Hawks series was supposed to be a wakeup call correct?

Well then why is this team still asleep? It's one thing to be giving away those type of games in the regular season. This is now the 2nd round. The Conference Finals are on the line and you're at home against a severely undermanned opponent. The path is right there for you, all you have to do is just not fuck it up. Unfortunately, that's what we got in Game 1.

No need to waste more time, let's dive in.

The Good

- If I told you that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown would combine for 52 points on 22-37 (9-12) shooting, I'm not sure I could convince anyone that the Celtics lost that game. I mean, that's the production and the efficiency we all dream about. As expected, both got whatever they wanted offensively whenever they were aggressive

Tatum with a massive 39/11/5 on 14-25 (5-7) in his 43 minutes, wasting a performance like that is so goddamn annoying. Jaylen not too far behind with 23/6/4 on 8-10 (3-4) shooting, these are games you have to win. Your two best players showed up and did enough to get you in a position to win. Both had their issues late (which we'll get to), but overall? They were more than good enough. This wasn't a case where the Celts lost because Tatum no showed and threw up a 5-19 or some bullshit like that. 

The only main issue I have with both guys was the fact that they (and others) had a strong 3 quarters when the game needed them to have a strong 4. A full 48 as the kids say. Jaylen only getting 10 FGA and 3 after halftime is not exactly what I would call getting the most out of your best players, but part of that was the fact that it seemed like he checked himself out of the game after those 3rd quarter TOs. He stopped being aggressive, and the offense as a whole suffered.

- Malcolm Brogdon was another guy that for 75% of this game was really, really good

He was able to provide that spark offense off the bench that the Celts needed since Melton was hitting everything he threw up, and he did it all while taking care of the basketball.

Until the 4th quarter.

A team best +14 in his 33 minutes, getting 20/3/3 on 9-16 shooting from Brogdon is in most cases going to be enough, and there are advantages we saw him have that will still exist later in this series. Like the Jays though, his issues came in the biggest moments.

- For everyone who cries that the Celts take too many 3PA and they need to attack the paint more, we're seeing why there has to be a balance.

The Celts won the points in the paint battle 66-42. They outrebounded the Sixers 38-28. They tied them in 2nd chance points and had more fastbreak points. 

As a team, they only shot 26 3PA and finished at 38.5%. It was clear there was no rim protection and the Celts didn't settle. They were aggressive. That's the good news. With Embiid out and hobbled when he does return, the Celts need to keep exploiting the paint. They just also need a better balance of getting back to their normal shot profile, and you'll see why shortly.

- I thought Rob was the best big on the floor for the Celts last night

The Celts were a +8 in his 19 minutes and almost every lineup he was involved in produced. This tells me the simple adjustment for Joe is to have Rob on the floor way more. He may not be a matchup for Embiid, but with no Embiid there needs to be way more Rob. The two most used lineups with Rob speak for themselves.

Brogdon/White/Brown/Tatum/Rob: 6 minutes / 36 Ortg / 84.6 Drtg / +51.7 net

Smart/Brogdon/Brown/Tatum/Rob: 6 minutes /180 Ortg / 110 Drtg / +70 net

The whole plan with Rob was to have him on ice for the playoffs right? Well, we are yet to see Rob play 30 minutes in a playoff game. In the Celts 3 losses, here are his minutes played

Game 3 vs ATL: 19 minutes

Game 5 vs ATL: 27 minutes

Game 1 vs PHI: 19 minutes

In those 3 losses, the Celts gave up 130, 119, and 119 points. Put Rob on the goddamn floor. 

The Bad

- When it comes to the success of this team, we know the Jays are the most important piece. That's not news. But there's a reason after every single game I put so much emphasis on guard play, because to me that's the head of the snake. When this team gets good guard play, they are elite. When their guard play stinks, it undoes everything positive that the Jays are doing.

Game 6 vs ATL and Game 1 vs PHI is a great example of this. Last night? Their overall guard play was dogshit.

It starts with Derrick. Really really brutal showing for him on both ends. Just 1-4 (0-4) with 2 TOs and a -15 in his 27 minutes, this was by far his worst game of the postseason and maybe of the overall season if we're being honest. He wasn't knocking down his open looks, he wasn't all that aggressive, he was turning the ball over in big spots and the on ball defense wasn't anywhere close to good enough. They cannot have Derrick giving them absolutely nothing like that.

With Smart, this was not Game 6 Smart we just watched. With him, it wasn't the shooting, he finished 4-7 (0-2). The issue was the carelessness with the basketball. This team is not going to win when he has more TOs (6) than FGM (4). Add to that, there was absolutely no resistance from Smart when it came to defending James Harden. He got cooked like you read about

it wasn't just the fact that Harden was 6-6, it was the fact that it was 4-4 from deep. When your two best perimeter defenders allow Harden to go for 22 points and miss only 1 FGA, that's an issue.

With Brogdon, as awesome as he was through 3 quarters, that's how poor he was in the 4th. Just 1-5 shooting and arguably the worst turnover of the night

So much is said about wanting Brogdon on the floor in these clutch situations right? He played all 12 minutes of the 4th and did the exact opposite of what he was brought in to do. I still cannot believe that pass. Where is the calm situational awareness? Smart had turned his game around have come up big in the 4th with 10 huge points on 3-4 shooting, and yet it ultimately meant nothing. 

Perhaps the more concerning part when it comes to the guard play is the regression in outside shooting. All three of these dudes are battling through it right now

That type of shooting from those three guys plays a huge role in the fact that the Celts have lost 2 of their last 3. The "others" have to hit their open looks. Without that, the offense is cooked. When Smart is the best one and he's only at 27%, that's not a great sign.

- As awesome as Tatum was, most of it really came in the first half. He finished 3-10 in the second, including this shot chart

I'm sorry, but I need Tatum to be better here. It's not like these were bad iso 3PA or anything stupid. It was shit all around the rim with no real rim protector. To go 3-9 from that zone over an entire half is inexcusable. Just dunk the fucking ball. With the game in the balance at the 4 minute mark and the Celts holding onto a lead, Tatum took just 2 FGA (0-2). Brown? A total of 0 FGA over the final 6 minutes.

When I say this game was just like Game 5 vs ATL, I'm not kidding. It was legit deja vu

Essentially the same situation, the same time on the clock, the same type of play, and the same overall result. 

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

- To me, this was another example of the Celts falling into the one thing we ALL know they cannot do once we get to the final 2-3 minutes of a game. They cannot stop being aggressive. So what did they do? They stopped being aggressive and it once again cost them a very winnable game.

This is where I think Jaylen's turnovers in the 3rd quarter fucked with him. He was not aggressive on that break. And I get it, maybe you don't want to turn it over. Fine. But that doesn't mean just give the ball to Tatum and watch him hold it for so long. Again, you're not making the defense work. Everyone knows what's coming. Nobody is moving, everyone is watching, and the Celts become predictable.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

The Celts were essentially 1 FGM away from icing this game. As it so often does, these games come down to late game execution. That play where Tatum stepped on Harden's foot immediately led to a Maxey 3pt play and the entire game shifted. 

In the Celts 5 clutch time minutes in this game, here's how they did:

Ortg: 110

Drtg: 170

Net rating: -60

That is inexcusable for a team that was MUCH better in the clutch all season. Shit, even in the Hawks series they had a +13.7 net rating in the clutch and it didn't even feel like they were that great. But when you stall offensively/turn it over on one end, and then don't get stops on the other, don't be surprised when you walk away with a loss.

- I didn't mind the Horford play at the end. Maybe don't auto switch and maybe fight through it, but that was about as good a contest as you could ask for against James Harden without fouling. He was right there on his shooting hand, he contested, Harden just made a great shot. It was certainly a much better contest than what we saw against Trae.

But the fact that the Celts once again made FTs in the final moments to give themselves a lead and only needed one goddamn stop to win the game only for another player to hit a stepback 3 in their eyeball is so fucking annoying. Like I said, it was Game 5 all over again.

The Ugly

- When a team is undermanned, the last thing you can do is be careless with the basketball. This is crucial for a few reasons.

1. It prevents you from taking and making shots

2. It gives them easy buckets/confidence

The Celtics finished this game with 16 TOs, 10 coming from Smart/Brown, which led to 20 Sixers points. Add in 12 2nd chance points, and that's 32 total points off self inflicted wounds in a game the Celts lost by 4 points. 

We saw it against MIL. We saw it against MIA. We saw it against GS. When this team turns it over, they die

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

The Sixers ended up taking 14 more FGA (12 3PA) as a result of those TOs and OREB, and this is where the basketball math comes into play.

As much as people complain about their 3PA volume, it's important when your opponent is playing that way and you are not. You can't trade 3s for 2s. Losing the 3PM battle 17-10 was a 21 point difference. That cannot happen. It's why the Celts shot 58.7% from the floor, and over 70% in the first half and never pulled away. They were trading 2s for 3s, and then when they turned it over, it led to more PHI 3PM. There not only has to be better balance with that, but you can't also throw in so many careless turnovers into the mix. How many times did we see the Celts just straight up pass it to the other team? It was as if they never played basketball before.

- As bad as the turnovers were, nothing compares to the lack of defense. I cannot think of a clearer example of nothing else mattering if you don't defend. You literally could not shoot the ball better than the Celts did to start this game, but if you aren't getting stops then what the fuck does it matter? If you don't defend in the playoffs, you die. Period. End of story.

By my calculations, the Celts have played defense in just 10 quarters this entire postseason. 10. Since Game 2, here are their points allowed: 119, 120, 119, 121, and 130 (2-3). 

Are you fucking kidding me?

In terms of 30 point quarters, the Celtics have now allowed at least 30 points in 9 of their last 10 quarters played. Again, is this a joke? There is absolutely no excuse for a team that is fully healthy like this to be THIS BAD defensively. From the perimeter to the bigs, everyone has been complete dogshit as a unit. People can talk about scheme and all that shit, but at the end of the day defense is energy and effort. It's about having some pride and saying enough is enough and locking in. We just saw it in the 4th quarter of Game 6, so what's the deal?

- Not the best time for Joe to not have his best day. I can understand starting the game with some drop in an effort to see if Harden could bury you that way, but once it was clear his shooting stroke was on, it felt like there was still way too much drop coverage late. I get the alternative is a switch that you might not want, but you have to try something. Sub Horford out and put Grant or Rob in. Or, maybe just don't switch. Fight through screens. You have to try something different to give them a different look, and that never really happened.

It was also frustrating to see everyone sort of panic when the Sixers went to a zone. It was like the MIA series all over again. To me this is more on the players, but I still would like Joe to put them in better positions to succeed in those spots. Especially when the final 3 minute execution is so poor. Joe has to help them there.

On the final play, this also felt pretty familiar. In Game 5 vs ATL, we saw the Celts run a very similar play, that time for Horford to catch the ball in the post and it got knocked away. Last night, it was this

I get what Smart probably saw, with Reed coming over there was a brief second where Tatum had an angle. That's a pretty low percentage look for Smart over 2 guys, he just waited a little too long to make the pass. By bringing the ball down low, it allowed Melton to recover and knock it away. 

The issue here is more, in this spot, the ball needs to be in the hands of your best players. I don't care who it is, Tatum or Brown, just pick one. Live with whatever they do. Maybe the play was to give the ball to Smart and then him find Tatum on that cut, but to me, you're leaving way too much up to chance by not starting the play with those guys having the ball. 

So now here we are. The Celts blow homecourt advantage and now make life infinitely more difficult on themselves. Game 2 is now a must win, and the Celts have no one to blame but themselves. For the millionth time they fucked around and found out. We know they can bounce back, we've seen it before, but man what an inexcusable loss.