In about two minutes you can make a Hot Pocket, a cup of coffee, listen to a song, or iron your favorite shirt. In Game 4, the Celtics showed you could also blow a playoff game. I’m not a fan of hyper-analyzing one play or bad call as the culprit of a team’s demise, but I do think that those things together, in conjunction, can flip a game, no matter when they happen.
A day after the Celtics loss, Coach Stevens said he thought the Celtics lost the game in the final 6 minutes. Just a quick gander at the box score and you’ll at least find evidence that suggests the Celtics lost the game in the first quarter. They outscored the Cavaliers in every other quarter by a combined 7 points, they had more FT’s, three-pointers, assists, steals, and only half the turnovers. The difference? A two-minute stretch that turned a manageable 8-point deficit to an insurmountable 16-point deficit.
The Celtics came in with a plan to not be embarrassed, a noble cause after a 30-point beatdown in Game 3. Unfortunately for Boston, the raw energy quickly turned into overaggressiveness and eagerness to make up mistakes which only further compounded them.
Forcing the issue was a crucial theme in the Celtics putrid end to the quarter. Here, Jaylen Brown knows he has the mismatch on Korver and understands he should be able to score in this situation. However, with Tatum junking up the paint, the correct move would have been to wait for Tatum to get out of the paint, survey what the defense was doing, and then react to that. Instead, Brown tried to force the issue in limited space which gives Korver an advantage because it’s less ground for him to make up. But it gets worse.
Right after the block, Brown gets down the court and instantly goes to Korver, except Smart already covered him. From Brown’s POV, Tatum had Hill and Horford was behind him ready to pick up Thompson who wasn’t a threat from the perimeter, by the time he realized he needed to be up to defend Thompson it was too late. It’s unclear whether this was on Smart or Horford to call out the switch quicker or it was on Brown for not just finding a man in transition. My money is on a combination of both, one of Horford or Smart should have called out sooner, but Jaylen also should have gone to the next available body and let team adjust from there.
On the ensuing possession, Boston again is looking for Brown in the post. However, as the play unfolds, the Cavaliers mess up a rotation on a weakside PnR between Tatum and Morris causing two Cavaliers to follow Tatum while Morris is wide open curling behind Baynes beyond the arc. Smart, focusing on the Brown post-up attempt, misses the opening and instead flings a pass to Brown which Hill doubles and Brown promptly gives back to Smart who is wide open. Love, for whatever reason, closes out on Smart hard leaving Morris wide open again, but Smart opts to throw a no-look and off-target laser that Morris mishandles and ends up having to put the ball on the floor instead of catching and shooting. Two chances to cut the lead to 10, and each time they came up short.
Forcing the Issue
These plays speak for themselves but do a perfect job of blending the pot of sewage the Celtics put together in the first quarter. Brown again forces the issue in a clear situation where he should have pulled out from what I'm guessing was an attempt to preserve the 2 for 1. Just as an aside, I’ve long questioned the value of the 2 for 1 if the first attempt is going to be a low-percentage attempt that will only give you seconds leftover to maybe get up another low percentage attempt, but I digress.
Right out of the inbounds, Brown then decides that instead of waiting till about 7 seconds is left that he’d take off early and try to get a dunk. This makes me question whether his first attempt was actually him trying to get to the 2 for 1 or was his brain just moving too fast. Luckily for Boston, the new possession didn’t give the Cavaliers any points, but the damage was done.
Celtics go into the quarter down 16 after leaving 5-7 points on the board when you count the missed dunks, layups, and uncontested looks from earlier and that two-minute stretch. That hurts in a game where they were able to get the deficit down to 10 or less multiple times throughout the game. This playoff run has always been about getting the kids experience, and Game 4 was a big lesson in learning how to harness aggression.
With Game 5 set for tonight, it’ll be interesting to see how the young Celtics respond emotionally. The Cavaliers know if they win this they have a chance to close the series out at home. Boston knows if they win this, they have a chance to prove the road demons are behind them by punching an NBA Finals ticket on The King’s court. It’s crazy to think this Celtics team could be the one that closes the stranglehold LeBron James has on the conference.