The Celtics Game 1 Loss Can Best Be Described As A Collective Failure In Essentially Every Possible Way
If Game 1 of the ECF felt rather familiar, there's good reason for it. For starters, we literally lived this exact scenario 1 year ago to the day
When it came to a horrific 3rd quarter which ultimately cost you the game, it was the same exact shit
When it came to what the rookie head coach had to say about that quarter, it was the exact same shit
Ime: “We won three quarters other than that, but obviously that one’s going to stand out. We really had one poor quarter that hurt us. "It was strictly from a physicality standpoint. It wasn’t anything different that they did. They just came out and imposed their will.”
Joe: We won three out of the four quarters. We lost one quarter because we dropped our sense of urgency.
When it came to the two best players shitting the bed down the stretch with careless turnovers and forced offense? It was the exact same shit.
The Celtics got what they deserved last night. It was a collective failure from the coach down, and I'm not really sure that's debatable. The frustrating part at least for me is outside of Malcolm Brogdon, everyone else lived through that Game 1 last year. They lived through that entire series, so they should know what to expect. They should know that the Heat tighten things up in the second half of games, especially late. This is not the first rodeo for this team, but it sure as shit looked like it last night. That's the annoying part.
By now, we know the Celts only take the hard road. That's just the reality. When given two options, they will never take the easier one. I don't understand it, but that's just who they are. They are a team that fucks up, watches the film, corrects it, and then responds. What they do not do is give themselves a cushion, which at this time of year is a dangerous game. The margin for error gets thinner and thinner the deeper you go, so dropping games like last night on your own floor is certainly playing with fire.
I say it in basically every blog win or lose, so I will say it again here. Perspective is important. This is Game 1. You do not win a series by winning Game 1, and you do not lose a series by losing Game 1. There is A LOT of basketball to be played, and it goes without saying that if the Celts want to win this series, they are going to have to be much better on both ends of the floor. Joe is going to have to be much better as a coach. It's a collective effort. If they aren't, Jimmy Butler & Co will end your season, it's as simple as that.
We have a lot to get to, so let's just dive right in.
- This is a weird section to write because at times in this game, the Celts looked good, especially offensively. The first half was pretty much exactly what you could have wanted to start this series off. The Celts put up 66 points, had 15 AST on 25 FGM, shot 54/38%, Tatum and Brown had 29 points on 12-23 shooting, Smart had 10 assists and 1 TO, Brogdon had 12 points on 50% off the bench, it looked like they were putting it all together.
The Celts put the ball in Smart's hands to start this game, let him initiate the offense, and it worked flawlessly. We saw something from that position that we hadn't seen since arguably the best pure Celtics point guard of my lifetime
The way the Celts were breaking down the Heat zone with ease and getting whatever look they wanted, they looked prepared and ready for whatever scheme the Heat threw at them. Only turning over the ball 5 times, it looked like all the issues from last year were going to be a thing of the past.
When they had to lock in defensively to end the half, they got the momentum stops they needed. I think most figured that as long as they tightened up the defense in the second half, they'd end the night with a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, NBA games are not 24 minutes long. As we learned, all it takes is one bad 12 minutes and everything you did in the first half is immediately undone.
So that is where we are going to spend most of the focus today.
- On most nights, if the Celts are scoring 116 points and are shooting 51.9% from the floor, that's good enough to win. If there's one common theme in these playoffs it's that at the end of the day, whatever the Celts do offensively doesn't mean shit if they aren't going to show up on the other end. All you have to do is look at the point totals in each of their now 6 losses this postseason. Tell me if you think this is anywhere close to good enough?
Now compare that to the point totals allowed in their wins
Outside of those two shootout wins against the Hawks, it's not exactly rocket science to see that when this team defends like they are capable of, they win. When they fuck around and can't stop a nosebleed, it doesn't matter what they do offensively. Last night they scored 116 and lost. They put up 115 twice against the Sixers and lost. They put up 117 and 122 against the Hawks and lost. In the Playoffs, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING comes down to your ability to get consistent stops. Game 1 last night was the perfect example. The Celts offense was buzzing early, and the Celts didn't get their separation until the close of the 2nd quarter when they finally stopped the Heat from scoring.
So what was the problem?
For me, it was both a mix of poor strategy and even worse execution. Let's start with Rob. I did not think he played with anywhere close to the intensity and energy defensively that makes a positive impact. He just sort of stood around and watched. When it came to contesting midrange Butler pullups, there was no strong challenge. He basically let Jimmy get whatever look he wanted. With Bam, it was the same thing. I'm sorry, I love Rob, but shit like this ain't it
Would you consider any of those strong contests? How about losing sight of your man because you were ball watching at the rim? These Rob clips essentially sum up the intensity that the Celts played with defensively to start this game, and guess what? It wasn't good enough.
From a strategy standpoint, I didn't love the approach on Jimmy at all. Moving forward, this team can't soft switch against Butler. Go under the screen and make him consistently hit jumpers, because there was absolutely no resistance on him to start this game either. When you look at the matchups, he absolutely destroyed both Brogdon/White
The Celts need to treat Jimmy Butler with a similar approach as James Harden in my opinion. You need size and length. The second you soft switch and Butler can pick his matchup, he's clearly going to burn you. That feels like a pretty easy adjustment to make moving forward, but it also requires guys to guard their own yard. The defense we're seeing from Malcolm Brogdon these playoffs has been a complete disaster, regardless of the series. It goes back to what I said about defense undoing good offense. Brogdon has been absolutely nails offensively, but if he's giving those points right back on the other end, what good it is? White might be too small to guard Butler straight up, which is why I think this has to be a series where Jaylen/Tatum take most of the matchups. You do that by not switching.
- At first, I thought Joe went with Pritchard minutes because Smart got hurt or something. That proved to not be the case, so that decision was rather odd. Maybe he was looking for some energy/shot making if the Heat went to a zone, but what we got was basically 11 minutes of Payton Pritchard cardio with a few Jimmy Butler hunted possesions mixed in.
The concerning part was that after his first stint where he really made no impac, there was a second stint in the second half, all while someone like Grant was a DNP-CD. That I just flat out don't understand. On a night where you needed toughness, some defense, and three point shooting, how is Grant a DNP-CD? What's the reasoning for playing Pritchard 6 minutes int he second half after he did nothing in the first? This was still a close game in the 4th quarter and on a night where Al also couldn't buy a shot, that rotation decision was certainly not great.
My guess is moving forward, this is going to be a Grant/Hauser series and not a Payton series. At least that's how it probably should be.
- I also don't really understand why the offensive approach changed in the second half. After all that success with Smart initiating offense and setting up his teammates, the Celts got to the second half and immediately stopped doing that. We got way more Jaylen and Tatum initiating offense, and that's kind of when things started to spiral. To start the third, it was more Jaylen forced offense which helped spark that initial run.
In the 4th quarter down the stretch, it was more of the same late game issues that plagued this team last year. Why? Because the team stopped using their point guards. I truly don't understand how someone can have 10 assists in the first half and finish with 11. Why are you stopping an approach that was clearly working?
For that I look at Joe and I look at the players on the court. It was almost as if they started to panic that the lead was slipping, so they fell back into iso/hero possessions instead of loving and trusting. No surprise they paid the price.
- Love missing 7 FTA in a game the Celtics lost by 7. In the second half, all Celtics not named Jayson Tatum were 3-8 from the FT line. At home. Smart, a good FT shooter, missed 3 by himself. Leaving points on the board like that is how you get yourself into trouble. That shit adds up.
Then of course there was the #1 issue every single Celtics fan was concerned about heading into this series.
In the first half, the Celts took care of the ball and had a decent lead. In the second half? They doubled their TOs (10). At the end of the day, 15 Celtics turnovers led to 22 Heat points. Does that sound familiar? If not, how could you forget
Like I said, this was a repeat of Game 1 all over again.
In the 4th quarter alone, the Celtics had 6 TOs, with 5 of them coming from their two best players. In the biggest moments down the stretch, we got this
Look I get it, be mad at Joe all you want, but last night was a players issue above everything else. More specifically, it was your two best players. Tatum finishing the 4th quarter with 0 FGA and 3 TOs in 8 minutes at home simply cannot happen. On one hand, get him the fucking ball. He went WAY too long basically just running up and down the court without ever touching it.
But when he does have the ball, I need you to not be making the same exact mistakes you make in the ECF last year down the stretch.
With Jaylen, we got a little too much hero ball from him (2-7, 0-4) which made his 2 TOs even more brutal. In a quarter where they finally started to get stops and hold MIA to just 20 points on 38/42% shooting, it was their inability to not play like complete assholes on the offensive end that prevented this comeback. At the end of the day, the playoffs are about execution, and I thought for the entire second half the Celts execution was dogshit on both ends.
- I mean look at the results of the final 24 minutes
There is so much wrong with that picture I don't even know where to start. The 66 points on 54/56%? The 5-16 from deep? The 11-16 from the FT line? The 10 TOs? Jayson Tatum only taking 4 fucking FGA? Al throwing up a 0? Tatum only having 2 rebounds and 0 assists and a -20? A blown 12 point lead?
All bad. All really, really bad.
- I'd say it is slightly concerning that before the game we heard about how Al Horford had to stop practice because the mentality wasn't right. Follow that up with the performance we saw and these comments from Jaylen after the game
I find this completely unacceptable. We got all these quotes about how if there was one thing the Heat wouldn't do it would be out-toughing the Celtics, and now you're not focused in practice and you come out too cool? Grow up. A spot in the Finals is on the line in case nobody was aware of that. After the game all the talk was about how the Heat were tougher and more physical. This wasn't an Xs and Os situation, this was a toughness situation. To still be having these issues at this stage with so much on the line is very frustrating because we know what this team looks like when it's locked in. We know what happens when they play that way.
So for them to come out and play all the ways we know they shouldn't is why I feel like the Celts got what they deserved.
- I know there's a lot of "MIA won't shoot like that again" going around because they were rather ridiculous from deep. I'll just remind everyone that a phrase like that is EXACTLY what Bucks fans said. How did that work out for them?
In Game 1, the Heat were 8-13 on "open" 3PA and 8-12 on "wide open" 3PA while being 0-6 on "tight" 3PA. A total of 25 of their 31 3PA were either open or wide open. It's pretty easy to make all your shots if nobody is going to contest them, so this idea that the Heat will start magically missing open looks is wishful thinking at best. How many times are we going to see the Celts leave a strong side corner shooter?
This is losing basketball so no shit the Heat converted in both of those spots. That's usually how those things work.
- Since the Game 3 win in PHI where he went 5-7 from three, Al Horford is currently shooting 25/19% from the floor. He's just 5-26 from deep in his 5 games since. That is absolutely killer.
- There's only one thing that deserves to be in this section, and that is the 46 point 3rd quarter. How rare was what we witnessed last night? Well for starters, it was the highest scoring quarter in Heat playoff history. That's fun. In terms of the Celts, this was the first time in my life that I've seen the Celts give up 46 points in a playoff quarter. The last time it happened was 1984. I guess that year had a good ending, but even still. What the hell was that?
Pathetic, that's what.
When I talk about Game 1 being a collective failure, the 3rd quarter is a perfect example of that. At the 10:55 mark, Smart made a 3PM to give the Celtics a 71-59 lead. It was at that moment that things started to go downhill.
After a Bam bucket, Jaylen TO and Smart missed 3PA, Max Strus made this basket
At that moment, things were cut to 6. The Celts were playing flat, they weren't getting stops, and momentum started to turn. This is instance #1 where Joe has to stop the bleeding. I know it's early in the quarter, but so what. He didn't, Al missed another 3PA and we immediately had this transition bucket from Love
OK, now things are reall starting to snowball. If Joe wanted to maybe give his team another possession to try and play out of it, now that the lead had been trimmed to 3 in about 1 minute, you HAVE to stop the momentum in this moment. He didn't, Smart went 1-2 from the line and then Gabe Vincent made this bucket
OK, now your 12 point lead is down to 2. Things are officially unraveling. After not calling one after the 3PMs, at least now you should probably realize what is happening and stop it. Joe didn't. After another Smart missed 3PA, Strus scored off a great outlet pass from Love.
While there was no timeout, Jaylen came back and hit a 3PM, the team would trade baskets, Smart would make a 3PM to put the Celts back up 78-76, but play wouldn't stop until the TV timeout after a Butler AND1 offensive rebound. At this point, the Celts would be down 79-78. All the momentum with MIA. A disaster stretch from Joe, no question about it.
But here's the thing. Coming out of that timeout, the score was within 1 point. While Joe didn't call that timeout, the Celts and their players still got one. They then closed the quarter by allowing a 24-13 run. That is not on Joe Mazzulla. That is on the players. Timeouts are not some sort of savior, you have to go out and execute.
A perfect example of this was the start of the 4th. The Celts cut the 12 point lead to 5 and Spo took a timeout (good). You know what happened next? The Heat players stepped up (good). They forced turnovers, they got stops. From 10:26 when Spo took the timeout to 7:49 left in the 4th, the Celtics scored 2 points. The timeout stopped the bleeding, but the Heat players then went out and did something about the momentum shift.
The Celts didn't call a timeout in the 3rd, but even when they came out of that TV timeout, nothing changed. That is why this was a collective failure.
If you give up 46 points in a quarter, you do not deserve to win that game. Shit, if the Celts were just awful instead of horrific and gave up like 35 points in a quarter which is still a huge number rather than 46, this game is completely different. But when you show no signs of playing defense at any point, eventually you're going to pay the price for it.
So now we move to Friday's Game 2, which is basically a must win. You cannot go down to MIA down 0-2 by dropping both of your home games. History suggests the Celts will respond and play better, but you did the one thing you couldn't do to start this series. You gave the Heat confidence. Now unless the Celts are able to punch back, things could get real dicey real quick.