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Celtics failed to find that “next gear” as Heat ramped up pressure

Closing games in the Eastern Conference Finals was a steep learning curve for the Celtics young core.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So there we have it. The Miami Heat eliminated the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. A fantastic run for a young Celtics core, which has provided the roster with further deep playoff experience.

Alas, this Celtics team may feel they should have forced a Game 7 It all looked possible until their fourth quarter bedwetting, allowing the Heat a 26-6 run. A mixture of porous defense, ill-advised shots, and pressure applied by this impressive Heat team became the Celtics undoing.

Entering the final quarter, the Celtics were down by two, quickly flipping the scoreboard into a six-point lead with 9:04 to go. The chain of events that then unfolded is where Miami won the contest, and with that, the series. Let’s look at how the Celtics failed to stem the tide as the Heat took it up to another gear.

A key component of this current Celtics roster (and some living in very recent memory) is their innate reliance on three-point shooting to dig themselves out of a hole. We’ve seen this story before, Celtics go down by a couple of buckets, and the agressive game plan of attacking the rim falls by the wayside.

On the above play, the Celtics are trailing by seven points. With their “best five” lineup on the floor, it’s safe to assume they would look to penetrate. Jaylen Brown receives the ball on the strong side corner with Duncan Robinson guarding him. Brown looks to beat the rookie off the dribble, but Robinson stays with him and shades Brown towards the baseline.

As Brown continues his dribble, Bam Adebayo cuts off the remaining baseline, forcing Brown to kick the ball back out. Tatum is the recipient of Brown’s kick out and then begins his drive into the paint. Guarded by Andre Iguodala, the All-Star wing is unable to penetrate. As such, Tatum kicks the ball to Kemba Walker once Tyler Herro begins to pinch in.

Walker receives the ball and steps into a three-point attempt. Nothing is wrong with Walker taking that three. There was room created by Brown and Tatum to step into the shot, and the defense was late to challenge the attempt. Yet, Gordon Hayward was unchecked in the corner with room to drive the baseline.

It’s those little “could have, should have” moments that define games like these. Moments where any scoring opportunity may have limited the opposition’s momentum.

When the Celtics did penetrate, they were finding regular success.

Again, Jaylen Brown’s explosive speed made the above play possible. With Walker blitzed, he relinquishes the ball to Brown, who explodes past his man to venture deep into Miami’s defense. Bam Adebayo positions himself in the center of the low help-line, protecting the rim with his length. Brown reads the defense and dumps the ball off to an unnoticed Hayward on the low block, which he finishes around the hoop with ease.

The Celtics’ ability to find success on the interior kept the final score respectable. Having struggled to see the ball go through from deep, the Celtics went 7-for-8 on interior attempts.

Finishing the quarter with a stat line of 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting, seven rebounds, 2-of-3 from the charity stripe, and two assists, the Celtics couldn’t figure out how to limit Adebayo’s impact down the stretch.

Earlier this season, ESPN’s Zach Lowe detailed Adebayo’s growth, pinpointing his history as a point guard when describing the breakout big’s passing and dribbling ability.

This clip displays all the instincts of a former guard. Putting the ball on the floor, Adebayo blows by Daniel Theis, keeping his composure on the drive to finish with a fearsome dunk for an easy two points.

While Daniel Theis has been a reliable presence on defense for the Celtics, Adabeyo is in a different league, and once he smelt blood in the water, he began to tee-up his teammates - notching four of his five assists in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics are currently ranked second in the playoffs for defensive rating at 107.3 per Cleaning The Glass, making this capitulation even more dumbfounding. While this outcome wasn’t expected, and the late collapse will sting for some time, credit should go to Miami for their schematic discipline and intensity.

The bubble experience provided a steep learning curve for the Celtics young core in an environment nobody would have expected on Opening Night. Hopefully, one of those lessons was to listen to Brad Stevens when he preaches “hitting singles,” and the team doesn’t repeat their trigger happy, game-chasing offense next time around.

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