The Celtics Game 2 Loss Was An Example Of What Happens When Every Playoff Fear Comes To Life

Winslow Townson. Getty Images.


Disgust. That's really all I feel this morning after what we watched that night. Well, that's not true the more I think about it. There's also frustration, embarrassment, depression, and annoyance all mixed in with a heavy dose of PTSD for good measure. 

If last night felt familiar, it's because it was. We experienced the exact same frustrating home playoff performance against the Heat that ultimately ended the Celts season. A different cast of characters this time around, but ultimately it was a repeat of the exact thing we all know the Celtics had to avoid in this series. 

While no team is ever going to go 4-4-4-4 in a playoff run, that doesn't really excuse what we saw last night. An opportunity to really put the pressure on MIA, all year we heard the Celts talk about how important it was to win their home playoff games, how much last year stuck with them and how much of it was a driving force behind their 37-4 home record during the year. In Game 1, it looked like perhaps that was actually going to carry over given how the Celts played on both ends of the floor. 

Instead, we are in the exact same spot. A fully healthy Celtics team, with all the momentum, allows the Miami Heat to come into their building and take homecourt. This time without Jimmy Butler, but with an approach that looked all too familiar. 

At the end of the day, what Game 2 ended up being was a look at what happens when essentially every single one of our playoff fears comes to life at the same time. Allow me to explain

The Good

- We're making a quick pitstop in this section, but don't worry we won't be here long. The only thing that remotely deserves to be in this section is the play of the two best players. When Jayson Tatum has 28 points on 10-20 (2-6) and Jaylen Brown has 33 points on 13-23 (4-9) shooting, that is enough. They have done their part. While they weren't perfect (6 TOs, 4 missed FTs, inefficient 4th quarters), if you get an overall efficient 61 points from those two guys, that should be more than enough for you to be able to win a playoff game at home. 

This wasn't a case of previous disaster losses to the Heat where Jayson Tatum threw up a tour date 7-24 and Jaylen had 7 TOs. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Overall, they gave you the type of offensive production we demand from them as the two best players. Losing a game like that is what makes it all so fucking annoying.

- OK, we're good here. Let's move on.

The Bad

- Alright, where would everyone like to begin? If it's OK with everyone, I would like to start with Joe Mazzulla. Now while I do think there's the standard "Celtics lost a game which means everyone needs to act like Joe is a moron who has no idea what he's doing rather than hold the players accountable" going on, at the same time there were several things I thought Joe failed at in this Game 2 matchup.

Let's start with the overall defensive approach. Based on what we saw and then heard from the players postgame, it appears their Game 2 strategy was to essentially dare some of the Heat players to consistently make their 3PA. The result was 23 "wide open" 3PA for MIA, which is their most against the Celts in any game since 2020.

Here's the thing though, as bad as that is, they also allowed 21 "wide open" 3PA in Game 1. The difference was that in Game 1 MIA shot 7-21 (33.3%) and last night 15-23 (65.2%). It was almost like the team saw what happened in Game 1 and said "this MIA team can't shoot" so they played with fire. This approach is insane to me for a variety of reasons. For starters, we JUST LIVED through a series where the Heat shot over 50% for THE SERIES on open/wide open 3PA. It was why the Celtics lost the series. Then, once it became clear after an 8-15 1st quarter from MIA that maaaaaaybe this isn't going to be the best idea. Here's where the first playoff fear came to life.

I can understand given what happened in Game 1, seeing if something similar would work in Game 2. But once it was clear you should not do that, you have to adjust. It was very clear to everyone watching this game that the Heat were not going to go cold unless you actually make them go cold. No switching, staying in drop, not contesting certain guys, that was the strategy failure which falls on Joe.


A lot of people were mad at Joe for pulling Tatum at the 6 minute mark (his usual rest), and this is something I'm conflicted with. That's the whole point of this roster right? There's enough talent on the floor to where you don't need to extend guys. At the same time, it was clear Tatum was off to a hot start, so it's totally fair in my opinion to be annoyed that there was no tweak to the rotations, if only to ride out that hot streak. If Tatum cools off over the next few possessions, then sub him out. If not, then great!

The strategy issues weren't just defensively, which is not particularly great. MIA adjusted by staying home on shooters and running guys off the 3pt line, knowing that trading 2s for 3s isn't going to cut it. The Celts are going to have to find a way to generate a much higher 3P volume number (32 is way too low), but it has to come the right way. It's pretty clear the Heat are no longer going to send 2 or trap once they go to their zone which led to rotations, so there needs to be an adjustment there to still find a way to generate 3PA. That did not happen.

And finally, the contest comment after the game. I dunno if Joe was trying to protect his players or something, but we all have eyes. We all saw what happened

What remains annoying is we all know that for the Heat to win this series, it's going to require them to take and make a lot of threes. Given what we experienced last year and knowing that, I cannot understand the approach of allowing them to take so many open 3s.

- So let's talk about that 3pt defense. I think once you actually look at how they were generated, there's a difference. Some are clearly strategy related, but some are just piss poor effort. Here's all 23


When it comes to the "strategy" ones (that failed), I put shots like this into that category


These were some examples of the Celts approach of not even really closing out, just standing around and baiting the Heat to make the open 3. That's a bad idea in any NBA game let alone the goddamn playoffs, and it still insane to me that this would ever be the approach given what we just went through last year.

There were also wide open 3s that were generated off Bam screens. Look, he's just not going to be called for illegal screens. He hasn't been called for a single illegal screen through two games, and that helps generate looks like this

These are the ones where it's not strategy and it's not player effort. This is why all the wide open 3PA bullshit that came via strategy is an issue, because this is something the Celts are going to have to live with. 

The final group is what I would consider just piss poor effort. I mean, how else would you explain these closeouts from Jrue Holiday in the biggest moments of the game?


Sorry, but those two plays are not a Joe Mazzulla or strategy issue. That's a player issue, and something we saw all too frequently in this loss. In no world in the late stages of the 4th quarter in a playoff game is that acceptable defense from Holiday, and at the end of the day if the players aren't going to go out and execute, then nothing Joe does even matters.

So when you look at all the ways the Celts gave up those 23 3PM, it was a combination of bad strategy, Bam screens, and poor player effort. 

In other words, the playoff fear of MIA's 3pt shooting came to life.

- After Game 1, I wrote this

- While they only had 10 TOs (which is a great number), the one thing that wasn't all that great was the 17 points allowed off those TOs. That's the Heat's formula, they need to survive off points off TOs. If you consistently flirt with the 17-20 point range, that's how they pull off their upsets. 

So while the overall total was great, what the Celts did as a result of those TOs wasn't. It didn't burn them in this game, but we've had enough matchups against the Heat where we know that points off TOs is arguably the biggest factor in trying to beat them.

Dating all the way back to their 2020 series in the bubble, one thing remains true when playing the Heat. If you turn the ball over and allow them to feast on points off TOs, you are going to lose. The proof is in the pudding.

In the 2019-20 ECF, in the 4 losses the Celtics averaged 16.8 opponent points off TOs. 

In the 2021-22 ECF, in the 3 losses the Celtics averaged 24.7 opponent points off TOs

In the 2022-23 ECF, in the 4 losses the Celtics averaged 19.8 opponent points off TOs

Well, do we want to guess how many points the Celts allowed off TOs last night?


What happened? Oh that's right, they lost. So when I saw the Celts give up 17 points off TOs in Game 1, it confirmed another one of my biggest playoff fears going up against MIA.

If you give up points off TOs, you are going to lose. It's as simple as that. It's not so much the number of TOs (12) as it is what you do as a result of them. 

When you get careless with the ball, you are playing into the Heat black magic. It allows them to get out in transition, and with that comes the typical dagger 3PM. We saw it play after play after play. Every time the Celts turned it over, it felt like the Heat came right down and made a 3. 

- Getting virtually zero production from your 3 bench players is not going to cut it. Payton Pritchard not even taking a shot in his 20 minutes. Hauser only played 15 minutes in a game where they needed his shooting wasn't great, and as good as Al was on the glass, he only took 3 FGA. Just compare that to what we saw in Game 1 (30 points) and that was a sneaky big factor in this game.

The Heat's bench won that battle 20-12, and that 8 point cushion was enough to be the difference.

- Everything about this picture is gross

I can understand being mad at Joe for his rotations, but here's the thing. At some point, the players who are on the floor are actually going to have to produce. Look at these lineups! Starters? Horrendous. Double bigs with KP/Al? Gross. The only lineup that was even remotely successful was Tatum + the bench and Horford + starters, and it's not like you can play both those lineups heavy minutes.


- Game after game after game I have to listen to people complain about the Celtics 3pt shooting. About how they can't rely on that and they need to attack the basket blah blah blah. Well, just like in Game 1 of the ECF last year against MIA, do you finally understand this is what they want? They want the Celtics living by the 2pt shot.

Last year, the Celts had 61 points in the paint, and lost. Why? Because they did not match the Heat's 3pt production. They lost that battle 16-10 and only took 29 3PA, which is an awful number.

Last night, the Celtics won the points in the paint battle 46-26, and lost. Why? Because they did not match the Heat's 3pt production. They lost that battle 23-12 and only took 32 3PA.

Feel familiar?

They were essentially beaten by Mazzulla Ball, just like we saw in the losses last year. When your opponent is making 3s at a high clip, you need to do 2 things

1. Run them off the line/actually guard them

2. Make sure you stay attached in terms of 3P volume

Instead, on one end of the floor the Celts weren't generating looks and instead were feasting in the paint, and then on the other end they gave up a billion 3s. It's not complicated, it's math.

Both teams took 75-80 FGA. Both teams made 37 FGM. So how did they lose by 10? 

Math. Another playoff fear came to life.

- The Celtics need a much more aggressive Derrick White moving forward. He eventually came alive a little bit in the 4th, but we all know this team is at its best when he is aggressive and he looks for his offense. As one of the best shooters on the team, he's past the days of being passive. When the Celts get passive Derrick, stuff like last night happens.

- When playing the Heat, you need to pick a poison. You either give up 3s and shut down Bam offensively, or you let Bam score and you shut down the 3pt shooting. The Celtics did neither in his game.

- The Celtics have won back to back home games in a playoff series just twice since 2021-22. There was the 4 game sweep of BKN and then the 2-0 start against ATL last year. In total, just 2 times in 8 series is very bad.

The Ugly

- When Brad Stevens made the offseason trades for Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, the only thing they were really going to be judged on was how they performed in the playoffs. They were not brought in for the regular season, they were brought in to be the missing pieces and guys that will take the Celts across the finish line.

With that came some playoff fears. For Porzingis, the fear for him was what happens if he disappears? It's not like he has a ton of high pressure game experience, and if he craters, the Celts are fucked.

Well, his Game 2 performance was probably his worst game as a Celtic, at the most important time. A 1-9 (0-4) performance and a -32 in his minutes, I mean holy hell. The 3s weren't close, his paint FGA weren't close, and when you're getting shit like this in huge spots


With how Porzingis played on both ends of the floor, it was exactly the type of performance we all deep down were nervous about. Not only was he a non-factor, he was virtually unplayable. That, is a big time concern. 

Then there's Jrue. His playoff fear was that his reputation as a playoff dropper offensively was real, and not just a product of him being in the wrong role. That's something I heard a lot of when it comes to his playoff issues. Now that he's a 5th offensive option, it's no big deal. 

Uhhhhhh, wrong. It is a big deal. It's a very big deal. 

Through two games, Holiday is shooting 30/37.5% from the floor, with only 5 AST and 3 TOs. Sorry, that is nowhere CLOSE to being good enough. I don't care if you're the 5th option or the 1st option. Combine his poor offense with a disastrous defensive showing last night, and this is not the caliber of play that I'm sure Brad thought he was trading for and then extending. 

It's not just the inefficient shooting (4-12), it's the CTE TOs as well


Between his lack of effort defensively and then being a net negative offensively as well, this was pretty much every bit of the playoff fear that exists with Holiday. The playoff offensive dropoff isn't just legit, it's an issue. 3 straight sub 50% TS% seasons in MIL, and a 37.5% TS% to start off his Celtics playoff career. To deny that fear is playing out is to deny what is happening in front of your face.

So here we go, the hard way it is I guess. This certainly isn't the first time we've seen the Celtics make their lives unnecessarily harder on themselves, and it certainly won't be the last. They had their chance to put the Heat on the ropes and have all the pressure, and they choked it away. Now, it is the Celtics who have all the pressure in the world. I don't think it's a stretch to think the Heat's shooting will continue, we just saw it be consistent for 5 straight quarters dating back to the 4th quarter of Game 1, and now they're at home. 

That doesn't mean the Celts can't get the split or even win both, but I sure as shit know that won't happen if we get another performance like we saw in Game 2.