BOSTON – So many times, too many times, we have seen the Celtics on the doorstep of defeat only to rally for an improbable win.
While it has been seen as one of Boston’s strengths this season, we’re starting to now see the downside of all those hard-fought wins on the heels of deep, early deficits.
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You have games such as the 97-91 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, a game in which the Celtics trailed by as many as 26 and rallied to take the lead briefly in the fourth quarter before eventually failing to seal the comeback with a victory.
Kyrie Irving has shown unwavering faith in his teammates and their ability to handle adversity.
Still, he knew as well as anyone that, based on how the Celtics played most of the game, a victory should not have been forthcoming for him and his teammates.
“We had no reason being in that game,” Irving said after the game. “We fought back, we battled back, but they...they came out and just really hit us in the mouth in the first half.”
And the Celtics were much better in all facets in the second half, but the strong play didn’t come soon enough – something that has to be of great concern for Boston going forward.
It’s easy to point to the schedule as a factor with the game being the second of a back-to-back, or the injuries in the backcourt finally catching up to them and impacting their depth.
But the problem with that narrative is that even when they were at full strength, the Celtics dug themselves huge holes that forced them to either fold that night or find a way to flourish.
They typically choose the latter.
But the Celtics know they can’t keep living on the edge like this and achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
“It’s hard, going on those crazy runs that we did, to maintain that,” said Jaylen Brown.
But it is a goal, one that the Celtics feel is within their control to bring to fruition more consistently.
“I think it starts with our desire to really, really execute,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Here are five takeaways the loss:
We’ve seen all season how telling Boston’s success or struggles are tied to how well or woeful they do on the boards. Indiana played some serious bully-ball against Boston, controlling the boards to the tune of a decisive 53-38 margin.
Indiana’s transition game was a big problem, one that the Celtics never adequately solved all game. By the time the final horn sounded, Boston was on the short-end of a 14-7 margin in fast-break points.
In the fourth quarter, Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner were extremely difficult for the Celtics to contain particularly when the two were in pick-and-roll with each other. When the Celtics dropped back, Oladipo hit pull-up jumpers. When Boston blitzed Oladipo, Turner hit jumpers. Boston tried to switch, but that left Turner with a major size advantage at the rim which, to his credit, he took advantage of. They combined to score 14 of Indiana’s 21 fourth-quarter points. “They did a great job of playing against every, everything you can do against it, and credit them for that,” said Stevens.
While holding the Pacers to less than 100 points was a positive for Boston’s defense, it masks what was a sub-par performance defensively. Players are going to make shots. No matter how good you play defensively, this is going to happen. But what players can control is the ability to contest those shots, something Boston didn’t do a particularly well against Indiana. The Pacers took 83 shots from the field, 48 of which were contested by Celtics players. That’s 57.8 percent of Indiana’s shot attempts were contested. To put that in perspective, the Pacers contested 59 of Boston’s 89 shot attempts, or 66.3 percent.
MORRIS STREAK ENDS
Marcus Morris has been on a roll offensively for the Celtics, giving them a much-needed lift offensively with his scoring off the bench. He came into the game having scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games, the longest such streak in his career. It’s a thing of the past now after he tallied just six points against Indiana on 3-for-12 shooting from the field.