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Life For The Celtics Will Be Challenging Without Their 7'2 Basketball Unicorn, And That Begins Tonight With Their Chance To Bury The Heat

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

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The last time the Boston Celtics entered a Game 5 at home with a chance to end their first round series, we all remember what happened. 

They failed to close the door, instead needing to play an extra game where they wrapped things up in 6 on the road. While we'll never know for sure, the one thing we do know is that not taking advantage of your closeout opportunities is playing with fire. Not just because you could potentially blow the series, but you're putting extra miles on everyone's legs which should you end up making a deep run, could ultimately come back to bite you in the ass.

We know that because we've also lived that too.

Given what happened with the Bruins last night combined with what we saw from this Celtics team in Game 2, there should be no surprise that some (me) may be nervous about tonight. As we saw last night, closeout games are hard. Just ask the Knicks or Pacers how their closeout attempts went. Hell, even the Nuggets lost their first closeout chance.

For the Celtics, they're going to have to do it without their X Factor in Kristaps Porzingis

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With every team in the playoff field seemingly getting bit by the injury bug, it was only a matter of time before it happened to someone on the Celts. I'm not going to try and pretend to be a doctor and have any sort of idea when KP comes back, but all I know is I've been training my brain to not even think about anything other than mid-ECF should the Celts get there. After the news broke there was a lot of chatter about how it shouldn't matter and they don't need Porzingis etc, and I'm not totally sure I agree.

Yes, the Celts still have more than enough talent to win tonight and then handle whoever they face next round should they all play to their potential. But let's not pretend like Porzingis wasn't an important piece to their playoff puzzle. He is what made them so tough to guard. His rim protection is what anchored the defense. When things got messy offensively, you could always just lob it to the 7'2 guy and he'd either score or get to the FT line. Without KP, the Celtics become easier to defend, there's no two ways about that. Their ability to handle the MIA zone for example is going to be extremely important tonight, and we've seen what that looks like without KP. It's not great. 

Here's what we know about living without our beloved 7'2 basketball unicorn.

On the season, the Celts went 21-4 without Porzingis, which is awesome. It is important to note the team was selective in some of these games in terms of which ones he sat, but we have seen the Celts beat PHI (2x)/ORL/LAC/MIN/GSW/PHX (2x) without him. 

With KP off the floor during the regular season, the Celts offense had a 121.5 ORTB (120.8 when he was on) and a 109.7 DRTG (109.6 when he was on). So far in these playoffs, the numbers without KP are 121.1/98.2. As you can see, both during the year and so far in this series, the Celts have been able to execute on both ends of the floor without KP.

In terms of how they shoot the ball, the Celts have a 57.5% eFG% with KP off the floor during the year (58.2% with him on), and shockingly the team actually takes a slightly higher percentage of their shots from deep with KP off the floor (49.6%) compared to on the floor (48.5%). What they lose moving forward is the best post up offense in the NBA, and that's the concern moving forward. No longer do they have that post up option should the outside shooting go cold.

When the Jays are on the court without KP, the Celts have a 119 Ortg, 114 Drtg and a +4.79 net. Decent, but not otherworldly. They do play well with Horford in the KP role, putting up a +8.83 net rating with a 122 ORTG. 

The second most used lineup this season was what we will see moving forward: Holiday/White/Brown/Tatum/Horford. That group played 311 minutes together this season with a 118.5 ORTG/115.8 DRTG/ + 2.7 net. Again, not all that otherworldly. The good news is that lineup has dominated the Heat so far in this series in their 26 minutes together with a 123.5 ORTG/96 DRRG/+27.5 net.

I think it's fair to say that with this injury, while it does not change the expectations for this team, what it does do is change their margin for error. That's what was so valuable about KP and how this roster was constructed. If Tatum or Brown struggled? No worries, there was enough firepower to survive. If Holiday continues to shoot 30%? That was fine because he was the 5th option. Getting zero points from Pitchard/Hauser? You can manage.

That's now different given the circumstances. There is no more KP safety net, which means the play of everyone becomes that much more important. There can't be any Tatum no shows. Jaylen can't play braindead basketball. Holiday can't continue to shoot in the low 30s from the field. The bench can't only give you cardio minutes. Everyone's role and importance have now gone up a level.

Which is why it is crucial that the Celtics do not fuck around (again) and close this series out. The longer you let this go, the more opportunity you are giving for someone else to sprain an ankle or a calf. You give the Heat life and one bad shooting night might mean another Game 7 where anything can happen. 

Be the team we saw all year that was dominant at home, and able to win big time games even without their basketball cheat code. Do that, and it's onto the second round.

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