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Only The Celtics Could Lock Up The 1 Seed In The East AND Blow A 30 Point Lead All In The Same Day

Kevin C. Cox. Getty Images.

I have no idea how to go about looking this up, but I imagine we witnessed something that has to be extremely rare in NBA history last night. How many times do you think a team has clinched a #1 seed in their conference AND blown a 30 point lead resulting in a disaster of a loss all in the same day? 

The 2023-24 Boston Celtics, truly historic in every way, even the shitty ones! 

You want to talk about something you don't see every day, how about something that hasn't happened this millennium?

What we witnessed last night has not happened since the calendars flipped to 2000. It is now 2024. Since 1999-2000, the Celtics have played 2,261 games including the postseason. Last night was the only time they have ever blown a 30 point lead and lost. At some point, you do kind of have to laugh a little bit. I mean the only time in 2,261 games and it happens on the same night the 57-15 Celtics clinch the #1 seed in the East? That's kind of funny. Embarrassing and inexcusable on every level, but funny.

To put even more context around this, the Celtics have had 16 30 point leads this season. They had won all 15. In fact, on the season they have more 30 point leads (16) than 10 point deficits (14). Not only that, they rank 30th in blown leads this season (14), 25th in 4th quarter blown leads (8), and 16th in blown 10 point leads this season. So the idea that "this happens all the time" to the Celts is factually incorrect.

It happened last night. That's really it. 

Here's the thing when it comes to a performance like this. After clinching the 1 seed, none of these games actually matter in terms of the standings. Now is the time to experiment with weird shit and see what sticks. The results, win or lose, don't change anything about the Celts' playoff path. Their spot is set in stone.

At the same time, just because they have locked up the 1 seed DOES NOT mean we can excuse terrible basketball. When they go out and play like shit to the tune of blowing a 30 point lead, you deserve to get crushed for it. When you blow that lead by playing like assholes, you deserve to get crushed for it. Bad basketball is still bad basketball, regardless of what your record is. 

There's no real way to spinzone blowing a 30 point lead. It should never happen, regardless of having your starting backcourt or not. Did Tatum and Brown play? Yes. Did Porzingis play? Yes. The players out there were good enough to build a 30 point lead, so my expectation is those same players are also good enough to hold a 30 point lead. If you want to say other teams go on runs, fine. But that's a game I need to be able to expect this team to win. I get teams blow 20 point leads all the time in today's NBA, which is fine.

This is 30. 

Last night was tied for the 7th largest comeback in all of NBA history. Sorry, but that should never happen.

With that said, let us begin

The Good

- New blog rule. Just like how we skip the Ugly section once the team hits 5 wins in a row, we will now skip the Good section every time this team blows a 30 point lead. You do not get to benefit from my spinzone when that happens which is a shame, because there were a lot of good moments during parts of this game.

But if you fuck around to the point where you have a historic collapse, I'm all set here.

The Bad

- Where do we begin when it comes to this shit sandwich? If it's alright with everyone, I'd like to start with something that I called out a few games ago, despite the win.

The Celtics defense has been dogshit for about a week now.

Maybe this is coasting until the playoffs, or maybe this is due to the different lineups being thrown out with multiple starters resting, I'm willing to factor all that in. But at the same time, the production is the production and it has not been good enough.

Over the Celtics last 4 games, their defense comes in at 24th in the league (119.5). That is by far the worst of any top 6 team in the East, and the only other top 6 team from either conference who has been worse is the Clippers (29th). 

Opponents are averaging 113.5 points over this stretch, which is 18th in the league. In terms of FG%, the Celts rank 30th in opponent FG% at 53.6%. When it comes to defending the three point line, the Celtics rank 29th (42.1%) over their last 4 games.

Take last night for example. What was the Hawks point total? 120 points. Shooting splits? 52.9/50% with 18 3PM. After limiting the Hawks to just 22 points in the opening quarter, the Celtics didn't hold them to under 30 at any point for the rest of the game. They allowed 34 points in the 2nd, 34 points in the 3rd, and 30 points in the 4th. When that happens, it should surprise no one that the Celtics lost every quarter but the 1st.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. If you do not defend, you die.

The backbone of every title run starts on the defensive end. I think it's fair to suggest that if this is the level we're going to see defensively in a playoff run, we are going to have many more games like last night. Historic offenses are great, but if you can't turn around and get a stop on the other end, what good is it? 

- At this point, pretty much everyone should know what the formula is for a Celtics loss, especially in the playoffs. They pretty much ALL follow the same path. I think part of why last night was so triggering was the fact that the Celts checked off every single box. If you aren't aware of what that formula is, it boils down to this

1. Poor 3pt shooting

2. Points off TOs

3. Missing 4th quarter FTs

4. Late game opponent OREB/2nd chance points

5. Poor late game play

Think back to every loss the Celts had in their last playoff run, and they all fit that formula. A million points off TOs against the Heat while going cold, tons of late OREB/points against the Hawks and Sixers, you can essentially set your watch to it.

So now put that formula up against what we saw last night

1. Poor 3pt shooting (28.9%)

2. Points off TOs (20)

3. Missed 4th quarter FTs (3)

4. Late game opponent OREBs/2nd chance points

5. Poor late game play

Go down the list. 1-15 shooting in the second half from deep. An insane 20 points off just 9 TOs, which is almost unheard of for this team. Payton Pritchard, who had not missed a FT in 2024, misses two in the 4th quarter

followed by Jaylen missing another big 4th quarter FT as well.

Late game rebounding issues? You're kidding yourself if this didn't look familiar, especially against the Hawks! They literally did this in the playoff series last year! In the 4th quarter alone, the Hawks had 5 OREB for 8 2nd chance points, in a game they won by 2. The margins matter, and that is going to be even more true in a month.

Then the late game stuff, well, more on that later.

- As I mentioned above, sometimes all you can do is throw your hands up and laugh. For example, we live in a world where a guy who is shooting 65% from three over his last 3 games and well over 40% on the season, missed all 4 of these looks

I feel confident in saying we probably never see Sam Hauser do that again let alone finish a game 2-10 from deep. Again, he's a 43% shooter on the year and has been shooting 65% on 10 3s a game over his last 3. Sometimes they simply don't drop. That's basketball.

So in one corner, we have a career 85% FT shooter who hadn't missed a FT in 3 months miss 2 in the 4th quarter, and in the other corner, we had a guy who has basically never missed from three go 2-10, including 0-4 on those great looks, 3 of which came in the second half. Admit it, that's kind of funny.

- What last night reinforced is something I hope a large section of the fanbase finally understands. You know, the ones who scream about 3P volume and how when the 3s aren't dropping the Celtics should just do nothing but take 2P FGA.

Here's the thing with that approach. It only really works if your opponent is also cold from three. If they aren't, you are going to get killed.

How do we know this? Just look at the second half of this game.

The Celtics had 28 points in the paint to the Hawks 20, and shot 61% from the floor in the 2nd half on 2pt FGA. Pretty good!

They lost the half by 20 points (64-44).

Why? Easy. Three point shooting

Take a look at what you see here

How do you blow a 30 point lead? You lose the 3pt production battle by 30 points. All the efficient 2pt buckets in the world did not matter last night because the Hawks were taking and making their 3s. Welcome to basketball in 2024 folks!

If you have an entire half where you go 1-15 and your opponent goes 11-19, nothing else really matters. You can't overcome the math. The threes stopped dropping, the Celtics adjusted to more of a paint attack, and they were blown the fuck out over the final 24 minutes. If you aren't going to slow down your opponent from three, nothing else really matters in today's NBA. 

- One thing that I think should not be dismissed about this loss is something that I think we will see in the playoffs, which is a combination of more physicality and a more lenient whistle. Over the last few games, I would not say the Celts (and their best players) have handled that well.

It was pretty clear the refs were letting Wes Matthews and the Hawks be ultra physical with Tatum down the stretch, which is exactly what we are going to see in a playoff environment. Nothing about what we saw told us he handled that well. It felt like giving him all that contact put him in this tunnel vision mode offensively where the Celts spent 10-15 seconds of him just going back and forth trying to back a defender down, only for the possession to result in a low percentage look.

The other issue that's more glaring is Porzingis. I blogged a few games ago about how since the All Star Break, KP's shooting foul percentage on his FGA has dropped from 16% to 9%. His whistle has changed, and to me, it's more reflective of what we're going to see in the playoffs. As a result, his impact hasn't felt the same either. Where was he the entire second half? 

This is going to be the challenge. How do they play when teams are allowed to be more physical and the calls are no longer there? It's not just about the execution part, but also the mentality part. 

The Ugly

- Early in the year, after the Celts lost to the Hornets in OT to snap a 6 game winning streak, I put out this tweet

Now in late March, this remains true, and we saw it in this loss. 

I don't even know what to say. An 8 second violation down 1 point in the 4th quarter because your best player is playing with negative pace and is walking the ball up the floor? Then, in the final minutes holds the ball only to turn it over?

Not like Jaylen's possession was any better either, that was some of the grossest offense we've seen all year. No movement, no making the defense rotate, and everyone standing and watching which ultimately leads to a poor shot or a turnover. 

Sorry, there is no Marcus Smart to blame anymore. The guards were out, but let's not pretend like the Celts initiate things late through their guards anyway. This is strictly on the play of the two best players. These late game situations ALL come down to the decisions that those two make. Always has and always will. It doesn't matter how much you change around them, they have to be better in these moments.

The frustrating part is the fact that they are still playing so slow. I can handle with bad results that come via a good process. That's sports. Sometimes you can do everything right, and the shot does drop. That shit? What we just watched in those clips? That is not good process. That's a losing process. If these games are meant for reps to prepare for the playoffs, none of what I saw last night is something that I think will translate to playoff success.

A lot will be made about "iso" at the end of this game, but to me that misses the larger issue. The Celtics scored on 5 of their 7 clutch time possessions last night. They had a 122 ORTG in the clutch. You should be able to survive that.

The larger issue continues to be the clutch time defense. Zero stops when it mattered, a 130 DRTG in the clutch, and a 160 DRTG in the final 2 minutes. Almost all of the focus will be on those two offensive possessions, but to me, that misses the mark. There is more to the Celtics late-game issues than "isolation". They are not getting stops on the other end. When you do that, your offensive fuck ups become magnified. 

As I always say, keeping perspective is important. No, the sky is not falling. No, this horrific collapse does not confirm what will happen in the playoffs. May I remind you what the Nuggets did last year immediately after they clinched their playoff spot

At the same time, I think we all know that if this is how the Celtics play in a playoff game/series, they will lose. The good news is you can count the amount of times we've seen this type of performance from the 2023-24 Celtics on one hand. This has in no way shape or form been a habit this season.

So, take it on the chin, let the media do their usual routine which comes after each Celtics loss, and turn the page. Use this as an opportunity to learn and get better and move on to the next.