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The Days Of The Celtics Having "Wake Up Call" Home Playoff Losses Needs To End If They Have Any Hopes Of Winning The NBA Title

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

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I'm not sure about anyone else, but I slept like shit, if you could even call it sleep. Every time I tried to close my eyes all I could see was the Celts putting up one of their worst performances of the entire season. I know that might sound a little dramatic or like I'm being a prisoner of the moment, but sadly, I am not

Game 2 was quite literally, one of the worst games the Celtics have played all year. The result? Another home playoff loss. By now I suppose we should be used to this shit considering the Celts are 14-14 at home in the postseason since 2021-22. That is such an insane record (and not in a good way) that it defies logic. Needing to always rely on road wins is what lower seeds are supposed to be doing. When you work all year to ensure you have homecourt in the playoffs, and you talk all year about how dropping home playoff games last year was a big part of why you came up short, to then start the 2024 playoffs by dropping 2 of your first 5 home games is so goddamn annoying.

I think that's what I feel most. Annoyance. I'm not sure anyone thinks the Celts should go 4-4-4 through the remaining rounds of the playoffs, losses are going to happen. But they cannot happen on your own floor, and they most CERTAINLY cannot happen via the type of performance we saw last night. A complete no show on both ends of the floor, I don't care who you are playing, if you screw around like that in a playoff game, you're going to get your ass kicked to the tune of a 24 point home loss. 

Last night was the 5th worst home playoff loss in Celtics franchise history. In fact, the Cavs are actually responsible for 4 of those 5. In 2010, they won by 29. In 2017, they had wins of 44 and 33. Sure those were with LeBron, but I guess there's just something about this matchup that brings out these types of playoff games. 

Given we were just in this same position in the previous series, it's not exactly a time for full blown panic. The margin for error is smaller given the fact that this series is now a best of 5 with 4 of the next 5 being in CLE (who has not lost at home), but there is still a lot of basketball to be played. What I do know is if the Celts play like we saw last night, it's not really going to matter where the game takes place. 

You play losing basketball, you pay the price for it. You fuck around and don't handle your business? You aren't going to like what you find out. It's that simple.

With that said, let us begin.

The Good

- Do you even deserve this section after what we saw last night? There's no spinzone. There's no need to make excuses for what we saw. It was awful. What exactly would you say the Celts did well in this game? Payton Pritchard's performance I guess?

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When we're leading this section with a guy who only had 13/2/4 and was a -4 in his minutes (while shooting 6-10), that pretty much gives you a clear picture of the type of shit sandwich performance we witnessed. 

Everyone good? Can we move on? I think it's time.

The Bad

- Now this is a challenge. Where do we start? Let's begin with the two best players. They are the ones who set the tone, they are the ones who need to deliver every single night. As we know, you can change the coach or the roster, and ultimately none of it matters unless Tatum and Brown are going to deliver. The Celtics will only go as far as they go.

Which is what makes their Game 2 performance so annoying. Offensively both went a tough 7-17 from the floor, with Jaylen adding in a brutal 0-6 from deep. He was a -29 in his 31 minutes, Tatum a -22 in his 37. Their offensive nights were polar opposites, with Jaylen unable to hit outside shots, and Tatum unable to convert in the paint

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Look, sometimes guys have off nights shooting the basketball. That stuff happens. So with Jaylen's 0-6 from deep, it's easier to stomach to some degree as most of his looks were clean, he just missed.

Tatum's offensive issues are a little more concerning. For starters, he has been unable to win his matchup vs Max Strus through 2 games. That is a real sentence. See for yourself

I know that Tatum has a lot of responsibility, but the baseline expectation is that he can win his matchup vs Max Strus. I mean what are we doing? This wasn't a case of Tatum being double or triple teamed. While that does happen at certain times, that was not the case last night. There's no excuse for such poor finishing at the rim, especially when the Cavs don't have their starting center on the floor. Shit like this is inexcusable. This is not a random game in January. This is the second round of the playoffs.

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To make matters worse, things were even more of a disaster on the defensive end for both guys. Donovan Mitchell, you know the one guy the Celts need to stop, torched both Jays for a combined 18 points on 7-10 shooting. Having your two best players both get outplayed by the Cavs best player is not exactly a winning formula, especially on your own floor. 

So while the entire roster no showed on both ends, it starts and ends with their best players. If Tatum and Brown aren't going to execute on both ends of the floor, nothing else matters.

- One of the most important parts of playoff games is ending quarters strong. When you have a chance to bury your opponent, you have to do it. Blowing that opportunity will almost always come back to bite you, and that is exactly what happened in Game 2.

With around 4:16 left in the second quarter, the Celts found themselves up 8 points. They recovered from the Cavs first quarter run and looked like they were about to right the ship. Instead, they finished the quarter 1-7, lost it 11-3, and an 8 point lead was gone

If the shooting wasn't bad enough, how they ended the half was beyond terrible. What is Jaylen doing here?

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Not only does he miss Tatum on the slip, but he turns it over and then compounds the mistake by fouling 90 feet away from the rim while being in the bonus? That is losing basketball.

To me, these last 4 minutes are where the issues started, not just the disaster second half. Winning playoff games requires you to be effective around the margins, and usually when the Celts have these types of performances they are absolutely awful in that department. In both the first and second quarter they had at least an 8 point lead, and did not capitalize either time Instead, they could not execute and let the Cavs creep back in.

- It was bound to happen at some point, but boy did Derrick White come back down to earth. Just 3-11 (1-8)  and a -27 in his 30 minutes, the guy simply could not buy a bucket. Most of his looks were pretty clean, so maybe he was just due for a game like this.

The problem was his backcourt mate was just as ineffective offensively. Just 2-7 (0-2) for Jrue Holiday, his 4 points and -21 in his 34 minutes weren't all that great either. People tell me I'm crazy for being so concerned about his playoff scoring, that I don't need to worry because he's the 5th option etc, and I just don't understand how that could be your take. This is not a singular instance. This has been his entire playoffs so far

His TS% in this series is a brutal 42.9%. For the entire playoffs, it's 45%. All of the fears you may have had about his playoff offense dropping is happening in real time. The issue there is that on nights when guys don't have it going, that's where we should be able to rely on Jrue to come through offensively since he hasn't had to carry the load offensively like he did in MIL. That was supposed to be what put the Celts over the top right? That their 5th option can still kill you. Well, when does that happen?

The Celtics have played 7 playoff games, and Holiday has shot under 34% in 4 of them, while being under 30% in 3 of those 4. That is horrible, regardless of where you are in the offensive pecking order. This idea that the Celtics can win playoff games while getting zero offensive production from starters is insane, yet a lot of people feel that way.

No. For the Celtics to win in the playoffs, EVERYONE needs to show up. Period. 

When you had the Jays going 14-34 and then the backcourt going 5-18, I mean what do you expect to happen?

- The main Celts 2nd unit players totaled 18 points, 13 coming from Pritchard. Hauser mostly gave you cardio in his 9 minutes, Luke had the opposite type of performance in Game 2 that we saw in Game 1, there was no real boost from that unit.

On the other end? Caris LeVert had 21 points. A known Celtics killer, they allowed him to come into their building and have the best performance of his playoff run

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Everyone knows that LeVert wants to get into the paint and the midrange. It's how he scores. If you make him shoot 3s, he's going to struggle. So what do the Celts do? They allow LeVert to get into the paint whenever the fuck he wanted

The Ugly

- It's pretty simple. If you don't defend, you die. Giving up 118 points on 54/46% is inexcusable. The Celts allowing 60 paint points and also not shutting off the 3pt line is exactly how you get down by as much as 29 points. The offensive issues may have bled into the defensive end, but part of me thinks that's a cop-out. The Celtics simply did not play defense. When pretty much every single Cavs rotation player finishes at least 50% from the floor, that tells you that collectively the Celtics were complete dogshit defensively

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P&R defense? Awful. When the Celts played drop, the Cavs buried 3s. When the Celts got away from drop coverage and switched instead, they were beaten repeatedly off the dribble. There was no resistance of any kind on the defensive end, and you simply will not win playoff games if you aren't getting stops. This is what getting completely outplayed looks like, and it came at the worst possible time.

- But as bad as the defense was, it's nowhere close to as gross as the offense/shooting was. This roster not even breaking 100 is pathetic, and when you aren't getting stops on one end and are putting up 41/22% on the other, this is what happens.

In the second half, all non-Tatum starters were 3-18 (0-13). What the shit is that? Another game of no real ball movement, a lot of standing and watching Tatum dribble, not forcing the Cavs defense to actually work and rotate, it was pretty much everything we hate about the Celtics offense when they decide to play like assholes. Early in the game when the ball was moving, things looked great and the Celts got out to an early lead. But once they started to press because defensively they couldn't get stops, once they kept missing you could feel they were getting more and more deflated to the point where things eventually snowballed.

- If this second half felt familiar, it's because we literally lived it in Game 2 vs MIA. I'm not kidding, the second halfs of those games are carbon copies of each other

39/33% shooting vs MIA, 36/11% shooting vs CLE. Jaylen 4-8/Tatum 3-8 vs MIA, Jaylen 2-7/Tatum4-7 vs CLE. 10 3PM allowed vs MIA, 10 3PM allowed vs CLE. 6 TOs vs MIA, 5 TOs vs CLE. 52.6% from deep for MIA, 55.6% from deep vs CLE. 40 points vs MIA, 40 points vs CLE.

The exact fucking same.

So who knows, maybe this plays out just like that series and this was the random outlier shooting performance for the Cavs. Like MIA, they are a middle of the pack offensive team both in terms of shooting and scoring, and last night they made their looks while the Celts went 2-15 on "open 3PA" and 5-12 on "wide open" 3PA. As they say, sometimes it's a make or miss league. 

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The issue of course is the Cavs are better than the Heat. You could rationalize what happened in Game 2 last series because there was less of a chance of that performance happening again. That's not really true for CLE. Donovan Mitchell can absolutely explode. We already saw this season how the Cavs can shoot at home, and now you have to assume their role players will perform even better. That's what makes dropping games like last night so annoying. 

You had an opportunity to bury a team, and instead, you gave them life. Again.

So just like vs MIA, Game 3 is about as must win as you can get without it technically being a must win. A split in CLE is the baseline expectation, but all I know is you're not going to win either of those games if you put up a two way performance like we saw from the Celts in Game 2. All year they've been resilient and have immediately bounced back, and now they find themselves in a position where the NBA title depends on it. Keep screwing around, and only bad things will be in your future.