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With The Way They Are Currently Playing, The Celtics Are Actively Blowing Their Prime Opportunity At A Title

Nathaniel S. Butler. Getty Images.

OK, first the bad news.

As we talked about yesterday, teams with a 2-0 lead are 414-33 all time. In the Conference Finals, they are 56-6. 

Unfortunately, it gets worse.

When the road team takes the first two games, in the history of the Conference Finals, they have never lost. So, if the Celtics hope to come back and win this series, they will have to do something that no team has ever done in the history of the NBA. No pressure! 

OK, now the good news.

There isn't much outside of this one fact. You have to lose 4 to lose a series. You don't lose a series by losing 2 games. For whatever reason, the Celtics homecourt is actually a gigantic negative. For all we know, getting away from that building will help this team remember how to play basketball. 

Is that a sad attempt at spinzone? Of course. The reality is with everything in front of them, with a return to the NBA Finals right there for the taking, the Celtics have folded to open this series. Their best players have let them down. The coach has had his own issues. The veteran "others" are nowhere to really be found. I considered Game 1 a collective failure from everyone involved, and honestly, Game 2 wasn't all that different.

To lose both games in your own building in the fashion the Celtics did to start this series is beyond inexcusable. Through 2 games, it's pretty clear what has happened. The Celts may have said all the right things before Game 1 and then again before Game 2, but so far one team has talked the talk, and the other team has walked the walk. All that talk about not being out-toughed by the Heat only to repeatedly get out-toughed by the Heat. On your own floor. 

This isn't really a case of "the Celts like to make things harder on themselves" like we may have felt after dropping Game 1. That may have been the case had they tied this series at 1-1. Instead, they dropped Game 2 and this is currently "the Celtics are actively blowing a prime opportunity at a title". Plain and simple. They are choking. 

Does that mean they can't turn it around? No. Of course not. The 2017 Celts did it. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that the 2023 Celts will not accomplish that feat playing how they are currently playing. They look like a team that deserves to get swept if we're being honest. 

Alright, we have a lot to get to, let's begin.

The Good

- Just like after Game 1, it feels wrong to even have this section. The annoying part was that we saw some good performances in Game 2, but not for the full 48 minutes. That was once again the issue.

For example, Jayson Tatum was really good in about 75% of this game. His play was why they were able to build those leads in the first place. In a massive game, Tatum stepped up right from the jump with 14 first quarter points. He was aggressive, he was efficient, he was making his threes

Coming out of halftime, it was Tatum who ensured there wasn't going to be another disaster 3rd quarter by scoring 15 more points on 5-8 shooting. Through 3 quarters with the Celts owning an 8 point lead, Tatum had 29/13/5 on 10-17 (3-7) with 3 TOs and was a +18. He was giving the exact performance you want from your franchise guy.

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The problem, of course, was that NBA games are actually 4 quarters and not three. We'll get to the finish a little later.

- All things considered, outside of his three point shooting this was one of Malcolm Brogdon's stronger playoff games. After getting COOKED defensively basically all playoffs, Brogdon was actually the only player outside of Tatum who had any success actually limiting Jimmy Butler. He held Butler to 0 points on 0-5 shooting on 16 possessions, which is way better than I ever expected. Add in his offense off the bench and I thought Brogdon was more than fine

A few silly TOs and 1-5 from deep were rough, but overall? Brogdon gave you more than enough in his 26 mintues to win. No real complaints about him.

- The same is true for Derrick as well. Brogdon was a +10 in his minutes and White a +8 in his. Not much to complain about when the guy goes 4-6 (3-5) for 11 points off the bench

While Butler went 3-6 against White, outside of Brogdon it turned out that Derrick was the only other Celtic who forced Jimmy to miss at least 3 shots. 

The decision to go small with White worked about as well as it possibly could. In the 11 minutes they shared together (most used lineup). Here's how the combination of Smart/White/Brown/Tatum/Al did

126 Ortg / 81 Drtg / +45 net rating

Just like last year, the double bigs has got to go. If you're curious, here's how the double bigs did in their 5 minutes

Smart/Brown/Tatum/Al/Rob

63.6 Ortg / 118 Drtg / -54.5 net

Very similar to last season.

- After not playing in Game 1, I thought Grant Williams came in and gave you exactly what you needed in Game 2. He filled his role in pretty much every way we hoped. He played with energy, he made hustle plays, he moved the ball on offense, and when it came time to make his open threes, he did.

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Obviously, the baiting Jimmy Butler is going to get the headlines, but at least he showed some fight. At least he didn't back down. Yeah, Jimmy came right back and buried this team, but I would suggest that was going to happen regardless of whether Grant said anything or not. We saw it in Game 1 didn't we? 

Even on the shots Butler made on Grant down the stretch, it's not like there weren't strong contests. We just witnessed elite shotmaking. You have to tip your cap to Butler and move on. I mean Grant is literally right there

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- After struggling in Game 1 with perhaps his worst playoff performance we've ever seen, Rob was much better in Game 2 on both ends. Defensively he was back to being active and actually making a difference, and then offensively. Man. Where has that been? The way Rob read the zone and attacked it in P&R, his aggressiveness to actually shoot the ball, I would argue that Rob was probably the 2nd best player on the floor last night

The frustration of course is the fact that he only played 23 minutes. Some of that of course went to Grant, but the issue is with Rob playing that well and Horford playing that poorly, one guy should not be at 29 while the other is at 23. I could understand not playing Rob in Game 1 because of how he looked, but in a game he was making a legit impact, he needed to be on the floor more

Here's the thing with that though. If you actually look at the Celts on/offs when it comes to Rob, you can maybe see why Joe was reluctant down the stretch?

Either way, after being a huge reason why this team looked so off in Game 1, especially defensively, it felt like this was a solid bounce back game for Rob. Hopefully we see him closer to 30 minutes the rest of the way.

The Bad

- As someone who is often first to point out when he plays well, it is important that I remain consistent.

Marcus Smart is having a horrendous series. 

There's really no other way to say it. This isn't a case of Smart playing hero ball and shooting too much like so many people often suggest. He took 7 FGA in Game 1 and just 5 FGA in Game 2. He's shooting 41/42.9%. It's not that. In fact, the Celtics are now 1-5 this postseason when he takes under 10 FGA. As much as people may not want to admit it, Smart's offensive production is important to how this team works, especially if one of the Jays is going to suck ass. They need Smart to produce points.

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The problem is he is not making any sort of positive impact in his minutes. Through 2 games, Smart has 5 FGM and 5 TOs. You cannot win with that from your starting point guard. Looking at the Celts production in Smart's on/off minutes, it's a complete disaster through two games.

On the court:

108.6 Ortg / 119.9 Drtg / -11.2 net

Off the court

127.3 Ortg / 118 Drtg / +9.1 net

While he is not alone in this (more on this coming), it's pretty obvious what happens to this team when Smart is ineffective in his minutes. They can't survive. He is the straw that stirs the drink, and the Celts need him to be one of those metal straws that are indestructible. Instead, he's playing like those bullshit paper straws that disintegrate after two seconds. That's an issue.

- I know it may sound like a broken record, but everything with this team will always come back to how they defend. When they play defense, they win. When they don't, they get rocked. This game was a perfect example.

The Celts opened the game by holding MIA to 24 points. They had a lead.

They then gave up 30 points in the 2nd quarter and blew their 12 point lead, trailing by 4 into the break.

They then gave up 21 points in the 3rd quarter, and rebuilt that lead to as high as 11, ultimately leading by 8 after three

They then gave up 36 points in the fourth quarter, blew both an 8 and a 9 point lead with 6 minutes left and lost.

So just take a step back and look at it. This team gives up 30+ point quarters, what happens? They lose. It's been that way these entire playoffs. Another game where the Celts allow over 110 points and they lose. Once you get to this time of year, you need to be able to consistently defend. Not for a quarter. Not for two quarters. You need to do it for all four. For the second straight game, the Celtics failed to do that, and that is why they are in an 0-2 hole.

- 10-35 from deep for a stellar 28.5%. Derrick White was 3-5, which means all other Celtics were 7-30. Tatum 3-10, Brown 1-7, Brogdon 1-5, Al 0-3. Just brutal stuff.

Through two games in their own building the Celts went 20-64 from deep (31.3%). In Game 2 they were 4-12 on "open" 3PA and 3-12 on "wide open" 3PA. I'm not sure how many games you win when you go 7-25 on clean looks (28%).

- I know we all love Al and what he is doing at 36 is crazy, but we also have to tell the truth.

Much like Smart, Horford is having a horrendous series.

In fact, he's been fairly brutal offensively since the 5-7 from deep game against the Sixers. Look if you want, but it's not pretty

Just like with Smart, Horford is too important to this offense and team to be this brutal. I mean, he had 17 points in that Sixers game on 5/5 and has just 17 points since. The whole system is built around Al being that stretch big that knocks down open shots, but at this point it doesn't even feel like he wants to shoot it. His threes aren't even close right now. It's not an accident that the Celts are 2-4 over this stretch and are getting this type of production from Horford. They can't survive like this, he needs to show any signs of life offensively if the Celts want any sort of chance in this series. 

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The on/offs with Horford tell the same story

On the court:

101.6 Ortg / 115.3 Drtg / -13.7 net

Off the court

133.3 Ortg / 126.4 Drtg / +6.9 net

While the defense suffers a little with him off the floor, look at the difference offensively. That's what happens when a key starter is giving you nothing. Add that to the nothing that Smart is giving the Celts through two games and you can see the issue. When a Jay is struggling, there is no one there in the starting lineup to help pick up the slack. 

- In no world can an All NBA player get outplayed at home with their season on the line by Caleb Martin. I'm sorry. That just cannot happen. 

- Tell me if you've heard this before. The Boston Celtics had more turnover issues in a close playoff game against the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. Let's go to the numbers!

Game 1: 15 turnovers / 22 points off TOs

Game 2: 15 turnovers / 20 points off TOs

Celts lose one game by 7 points and the other by 6. The Celts blew their first lead in the 2nd quarter by doing what? Turning it over. They had 5 in the 2nd quarter alone, all of which were just via playing dumb basketball. Shit like this

In the 3rd quarter, they also committed 4 TOs, but at least they played defense. They were fortunate Tatum went nuclear offensively and it didn't cost them. The same cannot be said for the 4th quarter.

4 more TOs, 3 of which came via your two franchise players and the other from your starting point guard. How impactful were they? Well, you tell me

When Tatum made this mistake

Duncan Robinson immediately came down and made a 3PM to cut the lead to 7. In a 4 point game with under 5 minutes to go, after Jaylen made this mistake

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he then compounded the issue by falling asleep and getting beat by Duncan Robinson on a backdoor cut to cut the lead to 2. 

The fact remains that as long as this team turns the ball over against MIA, they will continue to lose. We saw it in every loss of their series last year and we've seen it in both of the games this year. You play like assholes and you deserve everything that comes with it.

- While Joe was much better this time around with his timeout usage, he instead had some other issues. The easiest one to point to was not closing with Rob, even if we just saw what the defensive numbers looked like with him on the floor. The idea is at least he'd be able to potentially rebound and maybe make things tougher for Butler once he got into the paint, so instead closing with Al is an easy second guess.

There's also the topic of White, but this one is a little more tough. The Celts needed offense, and Brogdon was more than fine on that end while also playing legit defense. That's probably why he played the most of any point guard in the 4th at 9+ minutes. That quarter was also when Grant was making his impact, so his minutes made sense as well.

That's why for me, the issue with Joe last night isn't so much the rotations as it was the end of game strategy. I know you're playing with fire at the end of these games, but once again down the stretch, the Celts had too many possessions where they let Jimmy Butler attack someone. At this point, you have to find ways to send more help and then recover. I know the Heat are shooting lights out right now, but make the "others" come up in those huge moments. Look at how Spo is covering Tatum down the stretch, there's no single coverage. He's cool with the "others" on the Celts beating them, and they failed. Joe has to now go with that same approach because Butler has proven he can take anyone individually at the end of these games.

The Ugly

- While all the stuff above helps explain what the hell happened, at the end of the day things can really be boiled down to what we are currently getting from Jaylen Brown. He's been god awful to open this series, and when he plays like this nothing else really matters. Joe's timeouts don't matter, his rotations don't matter, Grant talking shit doesn't matter etc. The 2nd best player on the team needs to show up. Period. 

Instead, we're getting this

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7-23 (1-7) with 2 TOs and a -24 in 37 minutes in a game you lost by 6. In the fourth quarter for the second straight game we got a 1-5 showing. What makes this so brutal is this wasn't just an offensive no show from Jaylen, it was a complete no show. Offensively, defensively, decision making, all of it was dogshit.

Repeatedly getting beat backdoor is bad enough, but when you compound it with a possession like this

I mean what the hell. Talk about a lack of situational awareness. On what planet is going 1 on 5 a good idea in this siutation?

Everything about this is losing basketball. Forcing a drive offensively into all 5 defenders, not even thinking of passing, taking a tough contested pull up ALL WHILE there are 19 seconds on the shot clock. In the fourth quarter, where possessions are at a premium. Execution is the most important thing in the game in these moments, and this is what you do? This cannot happen from anyone on the roster let alone one of the franchise guys. 

With Smart and Al giving them nothing, the fact that they are getting this quality of play from Jaylen is why the Celts are in this hole. The fact is the Heat's two stars in Jimmy and Bam have completely outplayed the Celts two stars. Both throughout the game and then ESPECIALLY late. Butler with the big buckets, Bam with the big defense and big OREBs, and then on the other end all the Celts stars are doing is missing every shot they take and turning the ball over. You cannot win with that.

- Which brings me to the close. Up 9 with 6 minutes left, the Celts closed the game allowing a 24-9 run. Jimmy Butler scored as many points as the entire Celtics team. In that 4th quarter, the Celts took 18 FGA with Tatum and Brown accounting for 8 of them. This is how they did

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In the fourth quarter of this series, here is how the two franchise players have done

Jayson Tatum: 0-3 shooting / 3 assists / 5 TOs

Jaylen Brown: 4-12 shooting / 4 assists / 3 TOs

8 TOs and 4 FGM in two games from your two best players. Tatum without a FGM in two games is insane, even with getting doubled. He had open looks last night that he simply has to make. Jaylen continues to be as brutal as ever. When you look at the +/-'s, these two are a combined -20 in the fourth quarter of this series. Meanwhile, here's the Heat in the 4th quarter

Is it a surprise who is up 2-0? It shouldn't be.

Cry that this is Joe all you want, that's simply not the case

The way the Celtics are closing these games is on the players. Full stop. More specifically, their two best players. This team will only go as far as they are able to take them, and there is simply no denying that both guys have been absolutely pathetic to end these last two games. At home up 9 with 6 minutes left is a game Tatum and Brown should be able to close out. End of discussion.

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So this is it. Celts need to take both (and at the very least at least 1, preferably Game 3) or their season is over. A prime opportunity at a title blown and easily the biggest failure of this Tatum/Brown era. They can certainly play their way out of this mess, but it certainly won't happen with the quality of basketball we got to start this series. That I know for sure.