BOSTON — Prior to Game 5 of a tied Eastern Conference semifinals in opposition to the Philadelphia 76ers, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla stated, “It’s not a lot completely different than the common season,” and his group performed prefer it.
As was the case in Tuesday’s Game 4 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston lacked the requisite power from the leap, and the deficit snowballed to double digits earlier than halftime. Only, this time the defending convention champions by no means met their rival’s competitiveness, falling 115-103 to the brink of elimination.
“That was the primary recreation of the playoffs that we did not play properly, in my view,” stated Mazzulla, leaving out Game 1 and most of Game 4 of this collection and Game 5 of their first-round victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
The Sixers take a 3-2 lead again to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Rarely has TD Garden been so lifeless within the playoffs. Boos started within the second quarter, and by the top of the third, when the Celtics watched Tyrese Maxey’s uncontested layup, the group’s contempt reached a fever pitch. In the uncommon moments they performed impressed sufficient to seize their followers’ consideration — forcing a 24-second violation down 14 late within the third and reducing the deficit to 11 on Jayson Tatum’s and-one early within the fourth — they respectively turned the ball over right into a layup and allowed one other wide-open 3-pointer.
“The power wasn’t proper,” stated Celtics guard Marcus Smart. “It may’ve been higher, approach higher. We know that. We perceive that. Tonight speaks volumes. It exhibits that, for those who’re not prepared … this will occur.”
“We’ve gotten booed earlier than,” added Tatum, who scored 36 factors, “so it is nothing new. We’ve been in that place earlier than, and we did not play properly in the present day. The followers may see it. You guys noticed it. And we all know that.”
It was a listless loss in a rising variety of them for a group that has led the NBA in web ranking over the previous two seasons, and there’s no scarcity of blame to go round. The checklist will certainly begin on native sports activities radio with Mazzulla, the 34-year-old thrust into the highest job as soon as Ime Udoka was suspended earlier than coaching camp for an allegedly improper relationship with a subordinate and lead assistant Will Hardy left for the Utah Jazz.
There are professional criticisms, to make sure. The Celtics have caught with a drop pick-and-roll protection that has not solely allowed James Harden respiratory room to fireside from distance however given Joel Embiid freedom to feast on his bread-and-butter jumpers. Worst of each worlds. After not calling a timeout on a damaged ultimate play that price them Game 4, Mazzulla stated, “I’ll undoubtedly study from that.” He expressed an identical sentiment after dropping to the Embiid-less Sixers in Game 1. Not what you need to hear from the coach of a contender.
Then, there’s the matter of a group that made the Finals with protection as its calling card now branding itself an offense-first outfit. Their 117.3 factors per 100 possessions did lead the East throughout the common season.
“Our power is our offensive administration,” Mazzulla informed reporters throughout a follow session between Games 1 and a pair of. “This group has been constructed on protection for a really, very very long time. They have the DNA of that, they usually’re all the time going to play arduous, however we handle the sport greatest with our offensive decision-making.”
Might need to rethink that after Games 4 and 5. When the Celtics’ 3-pointers aren’t falling like they weren’t on Tuesday (27.3% on 33 makes an attempt earlier than rubbish time) and when the stagnation of matchup-hunting supersedes ball motion, protection may preserve them inside putting distance, however it’s nowhere to be discovered. They allowed 121 factors per 100 possessions in solely 11 video games throughout the common season and received seven of them. They have now given up that many in six of their 11 playoff video games, together with all 5 of their losses.
Boston Celtics Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum look on throughout the first quarter of their Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers within the Eastern Conference semifinals. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
This is a elementary drawback, however it’s not Boston’s just one. The gamers should not with out fault, both. Late-game psychological breakdowns like in Game 4 of this collection and lulls like in Game 5, after they performed as if their expertise benefit alone would ship a victory, have been commonplace for 3 years working underneath coaches Brad Stevens, Udoka and Mazzulla. Stevens’ in-game changes narrowed the margins of error, as did Udoka’s blunt drive, however in the end it falls on the gamers to study from their appreciable expertise.
Tatum and Jaylen Brown are simply coming into their primes, however they’ve performed 84 playoff video games collectively. If the Celtics should not but prepared to concede that the partnership has a sub-championship ceiling — and it’s cheap to assume they will nonetheless ascend — Stevens, now Boston’s head of basketball operations, could have inquiries to reply past Brown’s subsequent contract if his group loses to a group it has beforehand owned.
Should Smart have the third-highest utilization price in a pivotal recreation for a group that additionally boasts Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon within the backcourt? Al Horford turns 37 years previous subsequent month, and Robert Williams III has not performed with the identical bounce since final 12 months’s knee surgical procedures. And the place has Grant Williams gone?
As the ultimate minutes dwindled on their fifth Game 5 loss in its final six makes an attempt, the Celtics’ starters watched from the bench. Horford put his arms round Tatum and Brown and informed them one thing he most popular to maintain within the locker room, however certainly they will all see what’s in entrance of them: An alternative to probably play an eighth seed within the convention finals for the suitable to face one of many West’s flawed groups for a title.
Like Mazzulla, Boston’s younger stars should study from their previous lapses, and that’s not really easy in two days’ time. It takes years, and they’re six seasons into their championship pursuit. If they can’t right them for a win-or-go-home Game 6 in Philadelphia, the Celtics not less than have to start questioning in the event that they ever will.