In Game 4, the Celtics stumbled out of the gates before embarking on an impressive comeback to send the game to overtime. But on the final two plays of the extra period, they failed to execute, and Philadelphia earned the win.
In Game 5, the Celtics failed.
They failed to show any heart. They failed to play with energy. They failed to contain Joel Embiid. They failed to guard Harden in the pick-n-roll. They failed to show up in a home game that had major implications for the rest of their season.
Yet their response remained the same.
“I think that we can be better,” said Jaylen Brown. “And I think that we will be better.”
We've heard these platitudes before. Their constant calmness deserved praise as they haven’t let bad losses, or big wins, go to their heads.
But after a performance like the one on Tuesday night, that praise needs to go out the window.
From the jump, Embiid and the 76ers pushed Boston to the limit. They went up early, leading by as many as 14 points in the second quarter. Philadelphia poured in 25 or more in every quarter, including 30-point quarters in the first and third.
Philadelphia was outworking them at every turn, but hey, at least the Celtics tried their best.
“I think we had the right intentions to play as hard as we could,” said Joe Mazzulla.
Unless the Celtics have rebranded as a horseshoes squad, close isn’t good enough. Intentions don’t lead to wins unless they are turned into results. And in Game 5, they never even came close to accomplishing that goal.
And if the post-game semantics weren’t frustrating enough, Game 5 was apparently the first time Boston has played poorly this postseason.
“That was the first time in the playoffs that we didn’t play well, in my opinion,” said Mazzulla.
Game 5 got so bad that the Celtics fans at TD Garden, who were dead silent for most of the contest, rained down boos in the fourth quarter. The Celtics were booed with each mistake, between periods, and at every sign of defeat.
But even the dismay of their fans wasn’t enough to kick the Celtics into shape.
“We’ve gotten booed before. So, it’s not anything new,” said Jayson Tatum. “Weird to say, but we’ve been in that position before. We didn’t play well today. Fans can see it, you guys saw it, and we know that.”
After a win or a one-off loss, even in the postseason, Boston’s pragmatism should be revered. Their ability to brush things off is one of their best traits.
But after a loss like Game 5, their blase answers, especially regarding the boos from their hometown fans, were nothing short of deflating.
Boston still has a chance to win the series, and if they get their minds right, it’s not inconceivable for them to win Games 6 and 7. But actions speak louder than words.
The Celtics continuously spew out the same promises to improve and learn from their mistakes, but based on their play in Game 5, they aren’t ready to make good on those pledges.
And if they aren’t ready now, there’s a chance they never will be.