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Banner 18 seems so far away: One Takeaway from Celtics-Nets Game 2

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These are our guys, but it’s time to question if they’re the ones to get Banner 18

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1. No clips today. There wasn’t enough good stuff to make it worth the effort. A handful of Celtics did good stuff, but none of it really clip-worthy.

And that’s sort of the issue.

If this was our SB Nation counterpart, NetsDaily, we’d have about 30 clips of great ball movement to choose from. There would also be some spectacular individual efforts. It wouldn’t be just Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving either. It would be the entire Nets team.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Brooklyn blitzed Boston from the jump. After an avalanche of Joe Harris’ three-pointers, the Celtics were down 40-26 after the first quarter. Overall, in the first half, the Nets outshot the Celtics from deep by an 11-for-21 to 3-of-12 margin.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Jayson Tatum struggled through another tough game from the field. He was just 3-of-12 before he left early in the third quarter after getting hit in the eye by Durant. Boston can’t win without Tatum being great. And they certainly can’t with him not even playing.

And that’s sort of the issue.

On their faces, the stat-lines for Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier both look ok. They bounced back and shot better than in Game 1. But even as it happened in the first half, you had the sense it was all sort of meaningless.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Fournier showed some fight at least. He mixed it up with Durant and some Nets after some physical play. That’s great to see, but where was everyone else?

And that’s sort of the issue.

Robert Williams again had a massive impact off the bench. He continues to tantalize with his talent. But no one else joined him in making a positive impact off the pine.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Aaron Nesmith did his hustle thing, but shot really poorly, as he went 0-for-5 (all three-point attempts). Payton Pritchard made some plays as a passer, but matched Nesmith’s 0-for-5 from the floor. Romeo Langford was active, but took some questionable shots and looked a little out of sorts. The young Celtics are experiencing their playoff growing pains right in front of our eyes.

And that’s sort of the issue.

After coaching a great game in Game 1, Brad Stevens couldn’t find the same triggers to pull in Game 2. The Nets were better about making multiple passes each possession and stretched Boston’s defense until it broke. On defense, the Nets amped up the physicality. They let the Celtics know they were there all game long. Stevens tried some stuff, including shuffling the rotation, but it was all for naught.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Without Jaylen Brown, the Celtics just don’t have the star power to being to match the Nets. If Brown plays, Brooklyn probably still wins. But the margin for error becomes a lot wider for Boston. They’d have another versatile defender to throw at the Nets stars, especially in the switching system the Celtics deploy. On offense, Boston would have their other main scorer, which makes it harder on Brooklyn to focus on Tatum. If Brown was available, everyone would slot more into their ideal role.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Without Brown, Walker has to be the team’s second scorer. That’s not the end of the world. He can handle that step up. Fournier has to be the team’s third scorer. Fournier can also handle that step up. It’s after that where everything falls apart.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Look across the floor. If Durant, Harden or Irving is off or unavailable, Harris takes on some more scoring. Or Blake Griffin steps up as a finisher with more dunks in a single game than he had the entire year with Detroit. Even Jeff Green or Landry Shamet can heat up for the Nets. Who steps up for Boston?

And that’s sort of the issue.

At almost every spot 1-8 in the rotation, you can look at the Celtics players and say “He’s pretty good. I like him.” They aren’t perfect, but they’re all serviceable. And many are young and still improving. For the Nets, you look at 1-9 in their rotation and you say “They are all good and all fill a role.” And they’re established guys for the most part.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Instead of thanking the Basketball Gods for delivering Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Danny Ainge got greedy. Like Smaug sitting on a pile of treasure that could never be spent, Ainge refused to give up even the smallest bit of his draft pick horde. Like Smaug, that treasure trove of draft picks became his armor. All while overlooking the obvious weak spot that could bring him, and the team, down.

And that’s sort of the issue.

When building out the roster, the Celtics chased stars and actually landed them! In consecutive years, Boston signed Al Horford, Gordon Hayward (and traded for Irving that same summer) and then landed Walker when Irving left town. For the first time the Celtics were winning in free agency. But they couldn’t keep those guys, minus Walker of course. Horford left after three years. Hayward did the same. Irving only made it two years. That left Ainge to fill out the roster on the fly with Walker and those precious draft treasures.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Up front, Robert Williams has emerged, but he can’t stay healthy. Tristan Thompson is the latest in a series of big man band-aids. He’s fine, but is fine enough? Daniel Theis was the most consistent player of the bunch, and he was traded to avoid the luxury tax and tripping the repeater tax. That’s left the Celtics with an often-unavailable Williams, a “fine” Thompson and a series of flotsam and jetsam.

And that’s sort of the issue.

On the wing, Tatum and Brown are star talents. They’re great. Fournier was brought into buoy them. Without Brown, youngsters like Nesmith and Langford are pressed into doing more than they are ready for.

And that’s sort of the issue.

On the ball, Walker seems mostly back. He’s a good scorer, despite some streaky shooting. But he’s not really a playmaker for others. And his lack of size, despite his constantly good effort, hurts him on defense. Behind Walker, Jeff Teague flamed out, but Pritchard was the surprise of the season. He looks like a long-term rotation player. Sadly, like so many young point guards, he looks over his head in the playoffs.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Marcus Smart doesn’t really fit in any of the above boxes. He’s sort of a ballhandler, sort of a wing and can pinch hit as a big sometimes. Smart’s effort is always there. He’s a battler who will do anything to win, including exaggerating contact and taking himself out of plays at times. But if Smart leads your team in field goal attempts in a playoff game, it probably didn’t go well.

And that’s sort of the issue.

There’s not any one issue for the Celtics. It’s a collection of controllable and uncontrollable things that have landed them down 0-2 to the Nets. After missing a chance to steal Game 1, the Celtics got hammered in Game 2. They’ll get a lift from returning home to Boston and might even win Game 3 or 4. But this one is probably over in five games at the most.

And that’s sort of the issue.

We’ve held up that it’s a great thing that Boston has made three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals. They weren’t ready in 2017 and got popped by a much better Cleveland team. 2018 was as shocking and as fun of a run as the Celtics have had. They were thiiiiiis close to making the Finals. Last year, in the bubble, it felt like the window was as wide open as one of those collapsing doors that leads to a fantastic ocean view. But the Celtics fell short and never even made it to the beach.

And that’s sort of the issue.

Now, we’re all left to wonder if it will ever happen with the core constituents of Ainge, Stevens, Tatum, Brown and Smart in place. There’s real heat from the fans being applied to Ainge for his roster building and Stevens for his ability to get the most out of great players versus scrappy underdogs. Even Tatum and Brown have faced criticism, even if some (most?) is really off-base. And Smart has reached the zenith of his polarization among Boston fans.

Mostly, it seems like Celtics fans are sad and angry that this group they’ve come to love might not be the ones to raise Banner 18. These are our guys and we’re coming to the realization that without serious help, they aren’t good enough to get it done. And now we wonder if that help will ever come. That realization really hurts.

And that’s the issue.