This was a tough one. Really disappointing to cough this one up especially considering how much we led by late in the game. It felt like the Boston Celtics finally had control about halfway in the fourth only for it to come crumbling down like we’ve seen a couple times throughout these playoffs so far.
The part that Celtics fans should struggle with the most is the atrocious crunch time offense that this team has started to consistently display. We saw it at the end of game 7 where they really struggled to do anything and only could get free throws. It seems when they feel the game tightening up, the Celtics resort back to draining the shot clock and running isolation plays, which seldom work. If they play with the same pace they were using to generate the shots earlier in the quarter they’d have won this game. The final possession in the fourth really showcases this, with Jayson Tatum getting a low percentage step back three off an isolation play. It’s understandable they want to be conservative and not make sloppy passing plays, but at some point you have to take a risk, even just a low scale one, to pull out a victory, and the Celtics failed at that tonight.
Defensively this was a bizarrely messy effort. Too much over helping left shooters wide open, and allowed the Miami Heat to shoot threes pretty comfortably for most of the night. And vice versa, where there was too much help at the three, which resulted in easy paint points. You would hope Brad Stevens can come up with a better game plan here, because even with all the offensive troubles that happened late, the Celtics were a couple stops away from pulling this one out. Good defense can lead to good offense, and when the Celtics needed both the most they disappeared.
Daniel Theis fouling out in overtime didn’t help either, and was probably detrimental to the outcome. The Celtics jumped out quick before he left, and couldn’t seem to figure it out afterwards. The defense needs to be more cautious because this Miami team is really great at getting to the line.
Finally, this game showcases how crucial Gordon Hayward is to this team, and his return could be vital to the Celtics overall success in this series. Hayward can hold his own defensively and create more mismatches in the offensive end. He’s particularly devastating against zones, with his passing ability and mid range scoring prowess. On nights that are becoming a little too regular where Kemba Walker struggles, it’s that much more of a difference to have Hayward, who’s a reliable spot up shooter and can make plays when he gets closed out. Jaylen Brown has struggled occasionally in that role in his absence, and having Hayward back will allow him to regain some freedom in his offensive game. Marcus Smart has been spectacular in his absence, so easing Hayward off the bench if he returns seems like the right play. But his return is crucial for the Celtics and if he comes back it could swing the pendulum in the Celtics favor. It’s only one game, but in a best of seven series it’s a big deal. It’s crucial that this series goes to game 3 as a 1-1 series.
(Originally posted on September 16, 2020)