The Boston Celtics find their 2019-20 season on life support because they can’t get out of their own way.
Missed chances. Blown opportunities. These will be the epithets for a team that hasn’t made anything easy on itself the last two rounds of the playoffs. The Celtics must win three straight games to advance to the NBA Finals. But watching Boston kick the ball around as part of a 19-turnover performance on Wednesday night against the Miami Heat doesn’t inspire confidence in its ability to rally.
Boston fumbled away double-digit leads while dropping Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, then rebounded with a wire-to-wire win in Game 3 though they struggled to close out that game cleanly. The Celtics' foot remained off the gas at the start of Wednesday’s Game 4 and Boston whiffed with a chance to even the series.
Even after Miami fumbled away its own double-digit lead on Wednesday, the Celtics watched Heat rookie Tyler Herro erupt for 37 points and scorch them at the finish line. All while Boston deployed its Best 5 lineup and watched its players commit seven fourth-quarter turnovers en route to a 112-109 loss that moved the Heat to the goal line of the NBA Finals.
Boston will likely spend October (and beyond?) wondering what could have been. The team came out of the gates Wednesday with no energy and it was too late by the time they ramped up the intensity.
If you were one of the fortunate Celtics fans who decided to go to bed early Wednesday night, allow us to save you some time getting caught up. Just scrub to 2:47 remaining on your DVR and hit play. Don’t worry, this is only going to take a (painful) minute.
The Celtics had just clawed back within a possession of the Heat when their defense forced Goran Dragic to take a tough, stepback, late-clock 3-pointer. The ball conked the back iron and four green jerseys in the paint pretty much watched the ball sail over their heads as Herro tapped the ball back to Jimmy Butler. A few seconds later, after a brief defensive miscommunication, Dragic slipped through Gordon Hayward for a lefthanded layup.
Back down the other end of the floor, Jayson Tatum took a feed beyond the 3-point arc and, instead of immediately firing with an open look, he was late putting the ball on the ground as he started to drive and got whistled for a traveling violation.
"Simple answer is just we’ve got to be better,” said Jayson Tatum, who went scoreless in the first half before totaling 28 points after halftime. "We know what’s at stake, we know what’s on the line, and we’ve got to play a complete game. It’s win or go home time. I wish we would have played like that from the start. I take a lot of blame, you know, I didn’t play like myself in the first half. So I’ve got to be better to start the game off on both ends.”
Boston’s urgency was rarely evident. There had been so much good to pluck from Saturday’s win and the extended rest was supposed to aid veterans Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker in playing at a high level.
It didn’t. Tatum couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half and no one in green routinely attacked the basket until the third quarter. All the good habits from Game 3 disappeared in Game 4.
"I think we came out a little bit flat, and it wasn’t enough,” said Brown. "We needed a win tonight, we wanted a win tonight, but we didn’t.”
Coming into this East finals, the Celtics had to know two things were going to happen at some point: Jimmy Butler was going to singlehandedly take over the end of one game and Miami’s 3-point shooting would get hot in at least one other.
Butler did his part to steal Games 1 and 2. Boston left itself a thin margin for error after that. The Celtics can blame Herro for the incredible shooting performance in Wednesday’s loss. And it stings twice as much because the Celtics were so very close to snagging Herro in last year’s draft but a three-way coin flip had defied them and Miami was a spot ahead and able to pounce.
How ironic that Herro’s big day comes on the heels of Boston announcing that their own first-round pick, Romeo Langford, underwent season-ending surgery and might not even be ready for the start of next season.
No matter how good Herro has been, the Celtics have been their own worst enemy. The turnovers on Wednesday were inexcusable. The spotty effort and lack of attacking was even more criminal.
Boston’s lethargy might ultimately leave this team wondering what could have been. They simply cannot downshift any more if they are to keep their season alive.
“Challenges, adversity, all of that stuff is part of life,” said Brown. "The good thing is that we still have opportunities, we still have a chance. Believe in the team -- we’re down 3-1, but I believe that we can still come back and win.
"We all have to believe it. We all have to come out and play like it starting today, starting now, starting next game. We gotta have more. We gotta take it. It’s not going to just fall in our lap."