Celtics’ kryptonite returns at worst, instead of bringing Warriors to the brink of collapse in NBA Finals

Marcus Smart is not a man of articulation.

Back in early November, the Boston Celtics lost to the Chicago Bulls on a night, and their offense folded in the closing stages. After the game, Smart put the blame directly on the shoulders of his two best teammates. “Every team knew we were going to Jason [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown]and each team is programmed and researched to stop Jason and Jaylen,” Smart Say“I think everyone’s scouting report is to have these guys trying to pass. They don’t want to pass, that’s something they’re learning. They’re still learning and we’re proud of the progress they’re creating, but they Will have to go one step further and figure out a way to create not just for myself, but for the rest of the team.”

Late game scoring has been Boston’s kryptonite all season.

From Opening Night through Jan. 15, the Boston Celtics led the NBA in crunch time. During that time, they played a total of 120 minutes in the fourth quarter and were within five points of each other. By then, only one other team in the NBA had reached 100. The Celtics have been relatively close in nearly every game this season so far. until they don’t.

Starting Jan. 15, the Celtics played just 49 minutes, the second-best in the NBA. In their last 38 games, only 11 have come close enough to be considered key. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of Boston’s midseason transition. Seemingly overnight, the Celtics got too good to win close games. They never need to. For three months, they’ve beaten nearly everyone they’ve played. All those early-season problems solved, all those repeats that made their defense the best in the NBA? However, their clutch-time offense barely got those reps, so it made the playoffs untested and unprepared. The results speak for themselves.

Boston has played 12 clutch games this postseason, more than any other team. In those minutes, they were only able to score 89.1 points per 100 possessions, down from an already poor 97.7 in the regular season. Equally distressing is that offenses that assisted more than 60 percent of the time in the regular season are now only 41.2 percent when it matters most. Eight months after that Bulls game, Smart sang the same tune. “us Have move,” He says after the fourth game. “We can’t stand still and stand still and let them put pressure on us.”

However, that’s exactly what happened in Boston on Friday night. With 5:18 left in the game, Smart hit a 3-pointer to give Boston a 94-90 lead. From there, the Celtics will have just three points. So let’s go possession by possession in Game 4 and find out what’s wrong.

Smart came on with the ball as we opened. Shooting time has dropped to 14 minutes when Boston makes any moves. Smart pass to Brown, who called for a screen to pull Golden State’s worst defender, Jordan Poole, into the game. He attacked before Golden State could switch, but he picked an ugly runner when Klay Thompson went down.

Now, we get to the sequence that could cost Boston the game. Five 3-pointers. Five lost. First, Tatum tried unsuccessfully to keep Andrew Wiggins away from Brown. Brown opted for a 3 with more than half the time remaining. brick.

The game itself was fine on No. 3 possession. Derrick White hands the ball to Tatum and tries to hold him off a track. Tatum didn’t get anything, so he passed it back to Brown. Wiggins is still inside Tatum’s 3-point line, and he doesn’t jump out to guard Tatum on the perimeter. Instead, he stayed in the help position to stop the Brown drive knowing he would kick it back to Tatum for a jumper. Wiggins recovered quickly enough to counter Tatum’s turnovers.

What stands out here so far is the simplicity of the game. There are no skip passes or complex moves based on multiple off-ball screens or cuts. A Celtic is passing the ball to another nearby Celtic who may or may not attempt a one-on-one offense before giving up and taking another uninspired pass or controversial jump shot. We’ll get more when Brown takes off Thompson, gets blocked by Green, and passes the ball to Smart in the corner. The telegram of the pass was enough to get Green running back for the game. Boston gets the rebound. Green challenged Smart’s turnover again.

Brown looked for Thompson again. Again, he has nowhere to go. Al Horford missed a controversial 3.

We finally got to Boston’s only bucket in this time, and it came from slightly more complicated action. Tatum starts in the corner, then flashes to the nails with White’s screen. Once he got it, he faked a jumper before driving into Kevin Rooney. The key here is that Green isn’t at the rim. He guards Smart on the perimeter. Tatum knows this, so when he kicks the ball to Horford in the corner, he knows that Rooney won’t be able to cover the same ground Green had earlier so quickly. Tatum shoved the ball a little on the pass, giving Horford enough time to hit a 3-pointer. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but it’s thoughtful offense. Boston lets its best players get the ball on the move and lets him make decisions based on what the defense is showing him.

Our final possession was probably Boston’s smartest. Instead of wasting 10 seconds, Brown immediately attempted a backdoor cut, actually one step ahead of Thompson. But that help prevents layups, and Brown’s poor ball handling, like so many times this postseason, led to turnovers.

At this point, the competitive part of the game has ended. Boston’s lead disappeared as its offense indulged all the worst impulses and gave us five minutes of uninspired basketball. A slow-moving game, limited passing, 3-point consistency, and instinctive switching aren’t particularly rare late in the playoffs.

Games like this often boil down to which team’s stars are better at creating the right shots themselves. And this season, Boston has yet to do that. It’s as real now as it was at the start of the season. When the chips are down, the Celtics stagnate, and when the Celtics stagnate, as they did against the Bulls in November, they lose.

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