Well, as if we didn’t all already know this was coming, the Boston Celtics are now stuck participating in the play-in tournament when the NBA playoffs begin in just a few weeks. Their 129-121 loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday night in Boston completely got away from them in the second half after a much better first half showing than they gave in the first game of this two-game set on Sunday. Kemba Walker led the way for Boston with 36, while Celtics killer Tyler Herro led the way for Miami with 24. Boston has now lost three in a row and four of five, while Miami have won five of their last six.
Just one day after learning that star wing Jaylen Brown is done for the year with a wrist injury, it looked like Boston’s injuries woes were going to get even worse (is that even possible at this point?) just minutes into the game. Kemba Walker went up for a rebound, was bumped midair, and came down with his left arm completely limp.
It looked bad, and made you wonder just how much more could go wrong for this Celtics season. Luckily, Kemba returned to the game without missing too much, and all of Celtics Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. As much as Walker has struggled, he’s still better than the guys on the bench behind Marcus Smart, so losing him in addition to Brown and Robert Williams, whose turf toe now seems to be a more serious issue than originally thought, would be devastating.
This was a much better first half for the Celtics, even though they still went into the break losing by 6. After giving up 79 points in the first half on Sunday, only giving up 62 this time around was a huge improvement. Evan Fournier stayed hot after the best game of his Celtics career on Sunday, putting up 17 points on efficient shooting and dishing out a game-high 6 assists in the first half. Kemba Walker added another 17, showing that the shoulder injury didn’t bother him too much.
The third quarter did not go as well for the Celtics. Although Walker kept hitting shots, Duncan Robinson caught fire thanks to a parade to the free throw line because Boston got into early foul trouble. Walker scored 12, but Robinson more than matched with 13 in the frame. Giving one of the purest shooters in the league this type of wide open look in completely inexcusable, and just asking to get burned time and time again.
The fourth was more of the same, with Miami continuing to rain down threes. Boston kept it respectable but was never able to truly get back into the game and threaten the Heat. The Celtics actually managed to get the Heat into foul trouble relatively early in the quarter, but weren’t able to get enough defensive stops to make it matter. They seemed slow in the second half as a whole, and in the fourth it felt like Miami could really get whatever look they wanted, and even their tough shots were falling. Boston went on a late run once the game was out of reach, so the final score of 129-121 didn’t relay how the end of the game felt from a competitiveness standpoint.
As has been the issue all season long, Boston just didn’t have enough answers. Miami played the second half of this game without Jimmy Butler after he was inadvertently poked in the eye by Marcus Smart, and it didn’t matter. Players kept stepping up and making shots. For the C’s, Kemba Walker was hot and nobody else did enough. For the Heat, they lost their best player and everyone else stepped up. First it was Duncan Robinson in the third quarter, then it was Goran Dragic hitting some ridiculous threes in the fourth.
That’s the difference between a team flying up the standings moving into the playoffs and a team that is going to be fighting for its life in the play-in tournament. After coming out much better than they did on Sunday, it all went to waste by coming out terribly in the second half. Yet another letdown in a letdown of a season, in a game where their backs should have been against the wall. Instead, the slide continues, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Celtics fan that has any excitement at all about this team heading into the playoffs. Boston plays the Cleveland Cavaliers on the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow night at 8pm.
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