It was another roller coaster ride for the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. The team went into Indianapolis and led their opponents once again by 10 or more points (tonight was 19) for the 8th straight game. On its face, this is a great stat, but that does not always mean a win at the end of the game. The Pacers game was another disappointment until the final few seconds when the Celtics took back the lead and sealed an important 114-111 victory on the road.
Even as the Celtics squandered another big lead down the stretch, this win was a huge confidence boost. For whatever reason, this team has been mentally struggling to close out with large leads. Even worse, many of the losses were at home. Here, it was a tough road environment to come back against once the crowd was getting rowdy realizing the Pacers were doing the improbable. Indiana chipped away at the deficit all the way back until they took the lead with 2:14 left in the game, but the Celtics kept grinding away to grab back this game. Again, it was a solid win for the Celtics, but they will not be happy after this one. Where has this team’s closing instinct gone?
Everyone knows the forgettable games to this point. The Thunder, Nets, and Rockets game were all second half big game leads that the Celtics struggled to close the door on. It is a combination of the Celtics getting lazy, an opposing player heating up, and the Celtics becoming stagnant on offense. This was the exact scenario that happened against the Pacers.
At the 6:58 mark in the fourth quarter, the Celtics were up 16 points. From that point on, the offense went quiet, not scoring for nearly three full minutes. It was eerily similar to previous let downs. The team always has a game plan to close out these games, but something goes wrong. Against the Pacers, the game plan was clear: hunt Myles Turner on constant screens to get the isolation mismatch for a hopeful open shot. The problem, however, was that Kemba Walker just could not get it going.
After the shots were not falling, the Celtics’ offense stalled out trying to find anything they could to combat Victor Oladipo on the other end. The offense was mostly Kemba and Jayson Tatum focused. Each alternated taking the ball up to begin the possessions trying to spark anything. These mismatches were clearly something they saw with Turner, and occasionally Domantas Sabonis, but it was just not producing results.
This mismatch isolation mindset has been an issue of late, but the Celtics do not need to stray from what got them there. They need to stick to the pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker and Daniel Theis or continue to create for Gordon Hayward when he is having nights like last night in his home state. It is a continuous problem that the offense becomes complacent and results to hero ball to keep the team afloat.
It looked as it was going to be one of those nights before it all turned on a massive, massive three-pointer from Daniel Theis after a Victor Oladipo miss led to a transition break. It led to nice ball movement leading to this three tying the game and getting the Celtics back on track.
Then, it was the offense that had been working all night long. As seen in the second clip, that Theis screen and seal created for Tatum to take it down all the way for the emphatic slam. It was a big momentum swing followed by a Marcus Smart clinching layup.
Yes, the Celtics will have questions because of the coughed up lead, especially after the week they just had. The team must remember when they are leading by double digits not to become complacent on offense.