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The Boston Celtics Season Is Now On Life Support

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

Listen, rules are rules. Any other time a team in these playoffs found themselves in a position with 3 losses in a series, I titled those blogs that their season was on life support. Given the complete and utter embarrassment we witnessed last night at the Garden, that is now the Celtics' reality. It doesn't mean they are dead, it means what the title says. They, and their season are on life support.

There's a long list of things that went wrong which we are going to get to, but I think it's safe to say that last night was about as clear a collective failure from everyone involved as we've seen at any point this season. Not just for a few possessions or a quarter. The full 48 minutes. Not one guy, every player. Every coach, whether it was the head guy or the assistants. In a game the players talked about it being a "must win" at shootaround, not a single one played that way once the game started. All you had to do was watch the first few minutes.

When the Sixers grabbed 4 of their first 8 misses to start this game, you could see it then. There was no fight. No desperation. No energy. The Celtics were punched in the mouth right from the jump and never bounced back. In fact, the only bouncing we saw was Harden/Embiid/Maxey & Co bouncing the Celtics on their knees like they were little children. 

The question now becomes, why should anyone believe they can pull it off and win the next two games? It's a fair concern in my opinion given what we've seen these last two games. The brand of basketball they have played is not the type that is going to win you two games with your season on the line. It's been losing basketball.

Over the last 5 playoff series this team has played, the only time they lost 2 games in a row was the NBA Finals. We all know how that ended. What they thrived at was bouncing back and showing that resiliency. We saw that again this year vs ATL. Unfortunately, the Celtics have now lost two in a row in this series. Recent history suggests that's a bit of an issue.

Of course, the last thread we as fans have to hang on to is what happened last year vs MIL. We've seen this team respond in a similar situation when all the odds were stacked against them. They came through. That doesn't mean this team will, in fact, if they go into PHI and just assume they're going to win because they did it to MIL, they're going to get blown out again. 

But in the same way you don't win a series until you get 4 wins, you don't lose a series by losing 3 games. We've seen what this team is capable of when they show up and play to their potential. That's their only hope right now. They had an opportunity to do that last night, and failed miserably. Instead, they threw up their worst performance of the playoffs and one of the worst of their entire season. 

Alright, we have a lot to get to. Let's dive in.

The Good

- No. I'm not doing it. Not after what we had to watch last night. This team deserves zero spinzone right now. Coming out and putting up a performance like that was beyond pathetic. It was gutless. Shit, pick any adjective you want and it fits. 

Not only that, but even if I wanted to, I'm not sure there was anything good to to take away from this game from anyone who was involved in it. The entire roster choked. Joe and his staff didn't do much and what they did try clearly didn't work. You can survive when maybe one or two guys have an off night. When it's everyone that touches the floor?

You're porked.

Let's move on.

The Bad

- As with everything, things start at the top. You may be wondering how not even Tatum's 36/10/5 didn't make the top section, and that's because in my opinion, that was maybe the least impactful 36/10/5 of Tatum's career. Yes, he woke up offensively. That was great. The problem was the damage was already done given his start, and that's just the offensive end of the floor. We'll get to the defense in a minute.

There's no denying that a huge issue in Game 4 was Tatum's 0-5 start. He's too important to the offense to just not make a single shot he takes to start games. Especially in games as important as Games 4 & 5. He eventually woke up in the second half, and the hope was that would carry over to Game 5.

Instead, he once again started 0-5. 

It didn't matter that Jaylen was 4-6. It didn't matter Smart/White/Brogdon started a combined 5-8. When Jayson Tatum struggles in the first quarter to the point where he's this bad, it puts the Celts in too deep of a hole. It is not a coincidence that in the 3 Celtics losses this series, this is how Tatum's doing in the first quarter

3-14 (0-5). 27/0%.

Sorry, but not good enough! As we saw last night, it didn't really matter that Tatum snapped out of it, because the damage was done. Part of what made his Game 4 performance tolerable was the fact that Tatum imposed himself on the defensive end. He was a force.

Last night? The Celtics had a 139.7 Drtg with Tatum on the floor. When he was asked to guard someone not named PJ Tucker that will actually shoot, he provided no resistance as Tobias Harris went 3-4 against Tatum. So just add it all up. The poor shooting start put the Celts in an early hole offensively. Combine that with the fact that nobody was getting stops, especially Tatum, and that's how you have a 36/10/5 line with not a ton of impact. It's no accident that Tatum was a team worst -26. 

When you're the franchise guy, the good and the bad always start with you. Fair or not, that's the reality. In the playoffs, that's even more true. 

- Let's talk a little bit more about that defense, because for the second straight game and the third time in give games, it was nowhere to be found. 

Shooting is going to come and go over the course of a game. What needs to be consistent is what you do on the defensive end of the floor. We saw it in Games 2 & 3. That was 8 quarters of locked in, full 48 minute defense. These last two? It's been the exact opposite. 

The Celts gave up 115.5 points on 48/39% splits with 12.5 3PM and caused only 11.0 TOs a game over these last two losses. The Sixers have had a 121.6 Ortg, which is 7 points higher than their playoff average of 114.1. In terms of individual defense, there was no resistance by basically any Celtic defender. Just look at the breakdown

There were once again long stretches of quarters, I'm talking 4-5 minute stretches where the Celtics simply could not get a stop. If on one end nothing you throw up is going in, and then on the other end you are doing nothing to prevent the Sixers from scoring, well that's exactly how blowouts happen.

It wasn't just the lack of stops either which is what makes it so frustrating. This game was filled with stupid defensive fouls after stupid defensive fouls. Multiple guys fouling 3P shooters. Grant coming in for 2 seconds as the Celts were trying to make a run in the 3rd quarter, only for him to commit back to back brutal fouls on Embiid jumpers. Rob reaching in late in the shot clock on Harden drives where he had nowhere to really go. All that shit adds up. There was no mental focus on the defensive end and the team as a whole never snapped out of it.

- When I say this was a collective failure, I'm not kidding. Joe may not have been perfect, but I would also ask what the hell is he supposed to do when no matter what lineup he puts on the floor they ALL shit the bed?

Look at those lineups! Starters? Very bad. Put in Brogdon? Still very bad. Take out Smart and run with White/Brogdon? Nope, bad. It literally did not matter who touched the floor last night, nothing worked. Not only did it not work, it was devastatingly bad.

I throw out the garbage time bench lineup, so really the only positive was that brief moment Pritchard went in? You aren't going to win playoff games with that. 

Here's Joe's challenge. They need to figure out what the hell they are going to do about the Harden/Embiid P&R. Early in the series, they switched, and nobody wanted that becasue it put a big on Harden, often times Horford. So, they started playing drop. Unfortunately, that too is ineffective, especially from the left side

Perhaps this is the time to just roll with the double bigs, switch everything, and make the Sixers beat you 1 on 1. Because as of now, the Celtics are allowing Harden into the paint whenever he wants AND giving up way too easy looks for Embiid out of P&R. Playing small with White instead of Rob hasn't worked thus far, and something tells me it probably won't moving forward.

- I don't even know how to explain being 9-10 at home over the last 19 home playoff games. How is that even possible? What good is homecourt advantage if you never even win on your home floor? 

In a building they've been so good in these last few years, this simply does not make any sense. How are they able to lock in and play well on the road, but then turn around and play like complete assholes at home when everything is lined up for them? Infuriating.

- Offensively, it was another instance of this team just playing way too slow. There was no urgency with their offense, no pace. It's very obvious when this team is playing with a purpose offensively, the ball is moving, guys are moving, they are forcing the defense to react and rotate.

Did you get that sense last night? I sure as shit didn't. The Celtics only had 5 fastbreak points. Part of that is not getting stops, but another part is not playing fast and with pace. Instead, this team played much more of an iso style, or maybe one pass and then a shot. It was not the free flowing offense that we've watched for 6 months.

The Ugly

- Where to even start. I guess Al Horford would be a good choice. Look, I love Al. What he's doing at 36 is awesome. But he's been legitimately terrible offensively in both of these losses, and that is something that cannot happen.

3-9 (2-7) in Game 4, and a horrific 0-7 (0-7) last night. Each miss basically wide open, those are situations where you cannot miss every single one you take. Horford being that floor spacer and release valve is so important to the Celtics offense, for him to come up empty like that is beyond killer. Scoring was hard enough, so to finally get clean looks from a good shooter in areas where he thrives and for him to throw up 0-7 is brutal. 

What compounded the misses was the fact that the Sixers immediately went down and scored. It's one thing to struggle shooting if you're also going to get stops. When you don't get either, well we saw what happens.

- Between Tatum's slow start and Horford's disappearance, the Celtics are able to survive that if they got good guard play. That has always been the head of the snake for this team, and unfortunately, they had perhaps the worst performance from their guard trio of the year

Despite the solid 1st quarter, Smart/Brogdon/White finished a combined 7-21 (3-9) with 2 TOs and zero defense. The breakdown was pretty much even, and not in a good way

Smart: 2-7 (2-5)

White: 2-5 (0-2)

Brogdon: 3-9 (1-2)

It's hard to pick who had the worst showing, that's how bad the three were. Smart and Brogdon were legit disasters on both ends of the floor, Smart with poor shooting and some absolutely horrific momentum killing turnovers in the second half. Brogdon missing multiple wide open layups and overall not being all that impactful on either end. Derrick was just….out there. He's been regressing hard this entire series and it sort of feels just like the Finals.

- The sad part is, the bigs play wasn't all that better. In fact, you could argue it was worse. We talked about Al, but Rob was certainly not all that great either. Defensively he had trouble in P&R, he had issues staying in front of Danuel House Jr, and he had only 1 rebound and 0 blocks in his 18 minutes. I can't remember the last time we saw Rob play that many minutes and have such little impact. 

Then with Grant, all he did in his 9 minutes was commit two bonehead fouls on Embiid. 

Getting awful production from your guard trio and your big trio is a huge storyline of this game. Nobody showed up.

- When people say the NBA is a make or miss league, people think that's a cop out. In reality, it goes a long way in describing what happened in Game 5. You have to credit the Sixers, they stepped up and knocked down their open looks. That's what you have to do on the road if you want to steal a game. 

The Celts? Woof.

Many will just look at the Celts 3P shooting, but look at the open/wide open 2PA as well. This was a night where truly, nobody could throw a pea in the ocean. The Celts finished 39/31%, while also missing 9 motherfucking FTs. That's choking in my opinion.

In these last two losses, the Celts are shooting 43/35% from the floor. Their shot making has completely disappeared in this series

That's some pretty serious regression from pretty much everyone not named Malcolm Brogdon. So yeah, Joe deserves criticism for his mistakes, but at the end of the day the players have to make shots. They're getting clean looks, you have to execute. When those and even the wide open 2PA aren't dropping, I don't really know what a coach can do. 

- Of course, the biggest issue here is what the Celtics are on the verge of doing. They're healthy, the field has opened up for them, everything was there for the taking. Instead, they fucked around. Again. 

Nights like last night are why you can't allow series to go longer than they probably should. It starts back to the ATL series. When you get into these short series, one bad game can end your season. That was the Celtics Game 5. 

So now this is it. Win out or your season is over. For my money, it would be the biggest failure of this current era of Celtics basketball given what their roster is, their health, and the playoff landscape. They still might pull it off, but if not, they'll have no one to blame but themselves.