Part of being a Boston sports fan is that you expect greatness. Boston is the city of champions, and if a team is not reaching that level of success then the fans of Boston will let them know. To us there is no excuse, there is never a reason for a team not to compete for a title, it’s constantly put up or shut up. Ever since the Raptors series started, it feels like the Celtics have been way below this standard, and it was made even more evident on Wednesday night in the Celtics 112-109 loss to the Miami Heat.
I wish I could be writing about outside excuses on why this team isn’t performing to the golden Boston standard. I wish I could provide evidence that the referees were screwing us, that the Heat are playing dirty, or any other reason other than the Celtics shooting themselves in the foot, but I can’t. The Miami Heat have proven to be a well functioning team, and even without a large number of superstar talent they play well enough together to allow each other to rise above their expected limits. Jae Crowder has transformed from an iffy three point shooter during his time in Boston to what appears to be a deadly marksman from deep in Miami. The three headed trio of Dragic, Robinson, and Herro play so well in Eric Spoelstra’s offense that they always have at least one guy getting hot from deep while the others run the Celtics to death with their constant off the ball movement. Bam Adebayo is emerging as a top level big man in the NBA with his play on both ends of the court this series. Their defense has stopped the Celtics dead in their tracks with a simple zone, an unconventional method in the NBA but proving to be deadly in this series. Basically, everything I expected the Celtics to be in this series, the Heat themselves have become.
There is no one person to blame for this lack of efficiency from the Celtics side. It feels as if every part of the team is trying its best to hand these games over to Miami. Tatum didn’t score a single point in the first half of this game, Brad Stevens still hasn’t been able to figure out this Heat zone, turnovers killed the momentum the Celts had going into the fourth, nothing seems to be going right for this team. We see flashes of what this team can and should be, but the Celtics haven’t had a game where they played well in all four quarters since the 76ers series. If one thing goes right, another thing seemingly always goes wrong.
In the past games the Celtics have built up multiple double digit leads, only to have them dwindle in the second half of the contest, but in this one we never even got to enjoy a brief glimpse at hope. The Celtics actually made the pain worse in the final minutes, making it appear they had a chance at coming back but in reality the game was always slightly out of reach. The way the Celtics played those final minutes proved that their heart is in there, but why isn’t it showing for a full 48 minutes?
Again, I have no answer. You can call for Stevens’ head, but that doesn’t fix Tatum being a ghost in the first half. You can place blame on any of the big three (Kemba, Tatum, and Brown) for not stepping up as “The Guy” for this playoff run, but what then, are you going to blow up the team that has shown us how dominant they can be earlier this season? There is no logistical move to fix the poor performances being put up for the Celtics, all you can ask for is that they play as a cohesive unit for more than three minute spurts.
You can place the blame on coaching. You can place the blame on the individual players. None of that, despite how tempting it is to say, is helpful in any way. What the Celtics should be focusing on is “How do we avoid this moving forward?” Someone needs to step up, take control, and light a fire under the players feet. It could be Tatum deciding to prove he’s a legitimate NBA star and dominating the rest of the series, it could be Stevens going into the locker room and laying into the team. Whatever it is, it needs to happen, and it needs to happen fast. Because if not, there will be a whole lot of rumblings about all of these issues in Boston, and when Boston fans get angry, heads will roll.