The Boston Celtics were just inches away from victory in their 100-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. A Marcus Smart floater that would have beaten the buzzer for a win bounced tantalizingly on the rim for what seemed like an eternity. It ultimately popped out as the final seconds of regulation ticked by.
“The ball just sat on the rim forever,” Smart told reporters after the game. “I thought it was going in. I think everybody thought it was going in.”
Everyone but head coach Brad Stevens that is.
“I had a pretty good angle,” he told reporters. “It didn’t look like it was going in. It looked like it was off after the bounce.”
Stevens was satisfied with his team’s effort on the final possession nonetheless. “Kemba [Walker] made a nice play to drive and kick,” he said. “Marcus made the right play to drive again, and got the ball up, and it was a good look in that moment.”
Stevens didn’t speak to his decision not to call a timeout at any point of the final play. The Celtics had the opportunity to pause the action and advance the ball to half court, but opted instead to inbound from their own baseline with 13 seconds remaining.
Walker advanced the ball with plenty of time to generate a reasonable shot, starting his attack with roughly 7 seconds to go. The jitterbug point guard got into a little bit of trouble when Buddy Hield helped into the lane to cut off his drive. Stevens might have utilized his last timeout at that moment, but with just about 4 seconds to go, it’s unclear it would have been of much value.
Stopping play would have allowed the Kings to substitute their optimal defensive personnel, and left Boston without much time to get the ball in bounds and up toward the hoop. Letting things play out was likely the right choice.
Walker kicked the ball back out to Smart, who accessed the paint for his last-second floater. The Celtics certainly have more talented offensive options they may have preferred take a shot with the game on the line, but Smart has an incredible knack for coming through in the clutch, and getting a relatively lightly contested look in the paint qualifies as pretty solid process.
A pessimist might criticize Stevens’ initial decision not to advance the ball and set up a play with ample time on the clock, but that argument only holds the smallest amount of water. Boston was just a hair away from making their coach look like a genius. Such is life in the NBA.