Friday’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals was there for the taking for the Boston Celtics. After struggling in the first quarter in Games 3 and 4, Boston came out with a deliberate offensive showing and stifling defense that forced Cleveland into contested mid-range jumpers. The Celtics were up 25-20 after the first quarter, which felt like a small victory after falling into 32-17 and a 34-18 holes in the previous two games at Quicken Loans Arena.
Then the second quarter happened. The Celtics committed three turnovers and gave up four offensive rebounds, but their main issue stemmed from taking too many bad shots. Boston was picking the Cleveland defense apart in the first quarter, only to bail them out with less ball movement and contested jump shots in the second frame.
The Cavs ended the half outscoring the Celtics 34-18 en route to a 109-99 win. LeBron James scored 46 points leading some to believe that the Celtics are toast in Game 7. LeBron is 5-2 in Game 7’s during his career, averaging about 35 points per game. He has not lost a Game 7 since 2008 when the Celtics defeated him and eventually hun Banner 17.
Boston fans have plenty to be optimistic about after the Celtics did everything humanly possible to lose Game 6. The sky isn’t falling just yet, even though most hot-take television and radio shows will say the contrary.
The Celtics had the ninth best defensive rebounding percentage during the regular season, contributing towards their league-best defensive rating. In the Celtics’ three wins in this series, the Cavs averaged 6.6 offensive rebounds per game.
In Game 6, the Cavs pulled down 15 offensive rebounds, leading to a 44-31 rebounding advantage for Cleveland. It’s hard enough to defend an offensive led by LeBron, and allowing that many second chances on possessions is a death wish, especially when you fall behind like the Celtics have on the road. Defensive possessions don’t end until you secure the rebound.
Turnovers and Free Throws
The Celtics ended Game 6 with 14 turnovers, an uncharacteristic number that Boston only repeated in the Game 3 blowout. Their defense was doing well in forcing the Cavs into the mid-range shots they wanted, but the Celtics allowed the Cleveland role players to develop a rhythm by turning the ball over time and time again.
Boston ended up shooting 51% from the floor Friday night, but couldn’t capitalize because of the rebounding discrepancy and turnover troubles.
Free throws were also a problem, especially during the failed comeback. The Celtics are typically a good free throw shooting team, but missed nine of their 20 attempts in Game 6. This might not have been a big deal had the Celtics taken care of the ball and the defensive glass, but you have to make your free throws in a single-digit game. Nine missed free throws in a 10-point loss stares you in the face a bit.
Other than Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown, who combined for 55 points on 21-34 shooting, the Celtics had some rough individual performances from key players. Jayson Tatum ended up with 15 points on 7-13 field goals, but it took him too long to get himself going only scoring two points in the first half.
Al Horford struggled all night to find a rhythm, scoring six points on 2-8 shooting, while Marcus Morris just couldn’t do anything right. He took bad shots, threw some terrible passes, and stagnated the offense during Cleveland’s second quarter run.
LeBron’s success in Game 7 is undeniable, and I’m sure he will have a terrific game on Sunday, but the Celtics could not have done more to keep themselves from winning Game 6. They’ve already withstood a 40-point triple double from James in Game 2, a game that they committed five turnovers and limited Cleveland to just eight offensive rebounds.
In front of their home fans, where they’re 10-0 this postseason, expect the Celtics to correct their unforced errors in areas that they can control in order to clinch their first NBA Finals berth since 2010.