This is the part of the movie where some sort of adversity hits and the protagonist starts to question everything.
Was that love we had real? Will everything turn out OK? Will we end up with that Hollywood happy ending?
Did anyone actually think the Celtics would continue to win at an 88 percent clip all the way through to The Finals? If you did, kudos to you on the remarkable optimism. But it was inevitable there would be some sort of hiccup along the way, and it’s better to get it out of the way now than when it matters most.
Losing Robert Williams for the rest of the year would have been a major concern and valid reason to hit the panic button. Potentially getting him back for the second-round after 4-to-6 weeks is a game-changer, as the Celtics should still be able to win their first-round series without him.
If anything, losing Williams for an extended period of time is a reminder that nothing is a guarantee. This team has the pieces in place to stay afloat whether he’s on the floor or not, and his absence allows others a chance to get into a rhythm prior to the playoffs. While he’s without question a necessary piece toward accomplishing the ultimate goal, this setback isn’t insurmountable in the short term.
Though it’s objectively brutal news that Williams is out for a stretch, the Celtics should view it as a blessing in disguise and feel fortunate he’s not sidelined for the rest of the season. Celtics Twitter was a scary place when rumors swirled that he was out for the year. The world is much calmer now, and the basketball gods appear to have some mercy after all.
Without Williams, even more pressure falls on Al Horford, Daniel Theis and Grant Williams to contribute. None come close to matching his athleticism or bounce at the rim, but with Horford’s savviness, Theis’ reliability and Williams’ intelligence, they form a solid trio.
While Williams would have certainly helped the last two games, that wasn’t really why they lost. Against the Raptors, without Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Horford and Williams, the Celtics fared admirably considering the dire circumstances and probably would have won if Pascal Siakam had only been great instead of unreal. That one can be brushed aside and forgotten.
The Heat game was competitive, had a playoff feel and was tight throughout. Neither side created much separation through three, but Tatum and Brown struggled in the fourth as the Heat found a way. Boston only scored 15 points in the quarter, including a two-and-a-half minute drought to start the action.
They had another drought of nearly three minutes from the 4:21 to 1:40 mark and didn’t score after that. For those keeping score at home, two points in the final 4:20 isn’t stellar.
There are many interpretations of why, and none of them have to do with whether or not the greatest player who ever lived, Max Strus, should be a Celtic (he would be an awfully good one). First and foremost, the Heat are terrific. The Celtics dominated the first two matchups, and the law of averages said the Heat might steal this one.
Second — and this one’s a bit of a concern — out of the Celtics’ 22 wins in 27 games since the head-scratching 25-25 start, none have been by five points or fewer. Of course there have been some tight games sprinkled in, but the irony is that they’ve actually been blowing teams out so mercilessly that they haven’t had much close-game experience of late. They’re 0-3 since then in games decided by five or fewer and 22-2 in all other games.
Remember the whole “the Celtics can’t win in the clutch thing?” That was overblown, but the reality is that they have to figure out how to do so again – particularly without Williams.
A lineup of Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Brown, Tatum and Horford is more than capable, but that five doesn’t really have any experience finishing tight games. Winning a close one or two, and re-establishing their roles in crunch time, could go a long way. Isolating Tatum and Brown works sometimes but not every time. White and Horford have to be ready to hit open 3’s. It’s a fixable problem and one that only experience can remedy.
There’s no need to throw your remote at your TV, scream loudly at the screen or turn it off entirely. The games are still fun, the Celtics are still good and the title is still within reach. Everybody breathe. It’s only two losses.
The 1-seed does seem less and less likely, however, and the linear path many were envisioning has taken a slight detour. Now it’s up to the Celtics to respond.