In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals rematch between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, some ghosts of the past rose out of the woodwork at TD Garden as the Celtics fell 123-116. Despite leading by 9 at the half, a disastrous third quarter run of 46-25 by Miami completely sucked the life out of Boston, and late game disfunction and miscues dashed their hopes of tying or jumping ahead.
“Not taking care of the ball, I think that’s what’s going to stick out to people,” said Malcolm Brogdon after Wednesday’s game. “but I think the third quarter we gave up 45 or 46 points, so...that hurts. It’s hard to recover from that.”
If you asked Joe Mazzulla, he’d say that outside of a disastrously terrible quarter, the team played great. If you asked Jaylen Brown, he’d say the team came out “too cool” and didn’t rise to the occasion. If you asked Marcus Smart, he’d say it was lack of defense was what sunk the Celtics. But Malcolm Brogdon’s read on the situation was by far the most honest and direct, and probably tied into all of the above.
Malcolm Brogdon on if Joe Mazzulla could have called timeout in the 3rd:— Celtics on CLNS (@CelticsCLNS) May 18, 2023
"I mean he can call the timeout but that's on us to pay attention to the details and come out and really just be better all around."
Full G1 Postgame Interview: https://t.co/icpJCkFhIm
⚡️by @FDSportsbook… pic.twitter.com/JB2TdHXSyz
“We just didn’t come out with the urgency,” continued Brogdon, “I think we were up seven or nine at the half, and didn’t come out with the urgency, and then it just carried through the rest of the quarter.”
A flat Game 1 at home shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point, especially against Miami, and even more so in the third quarter. Boston has struggled in close games, and against Miami, the third quarter had consistently been their kryptonite, and in Game 1 it came down to Miami’s shooters.
The Heat shot 16-of-31 from beyond the arc. Out of their 16 made threes, 8 of them were open (defender within 4-6 feet) while the rest were wide open (6+ from closest defender); to add insult to injury, Miami was 6-of-9 from deep in the third quarter, including a perfect 4-of-4 on wide-open threes. Boston continued to not cover the perimeter, and Miami unquestionably capitalized on it.
Even with the team struggling on the floor, Joe Mazzulla didn’t call a single timeout during the third quarter Heat run, and deflected in his postgame when asked. Much like many of the Celtics have said, Mazzulla refuses to bail them out when things got rocky, but they’ve proceeded to take ownership of it instead.
“I mean, he can call the timeout,” said Brogdon in Mazzulla’s defense. “But that’s on us to pay attention to the details and come out and really just be better all around.” Being focused and staying locked in on a case-by-case has been a constant issue for the Celtics, especially over the past two seasons or so. After a certain point, it stops becoming surprising, and Brogdon thinks one crucial thing was lacking for Boston in their loss to Miami.
Malcolm Brogdon: "This is a mental game at this point. We know their tendencies. They know ours. But extra possessions, offensive rebounds. I think they played with more poise on the offensive end than we did. They got every shot they wanted to."— Souichi Terada | 寺田惣一 (@SouichiTerada) May 18, 2023
“They’re tough, just mentally,” said Brogdon of the Heat. “This is a mental game at this point. We know their tendencies, they know ours, but extra possessions, offensive rebounds — I think they played with more poise on their offensive end than we did on our offensive end tonight. They got every shot they wanted to, and really took their time. So I think we can do a better job of that next game.”
It’s not an exaggeration to say the Celtics have put themselves in this situation frequently. Boston has lost four of their last six home playoff games, including at least one in each series they’ve played this season. With such a dominant offense for a massive chunk of the season, Boston’s overall approach to games differed from the defense-first system under Ime Udoka. But if you can’t lean on your defense when your shots aren’t falling, what else do you have?
“It definitely is human nature,” said Brogdon on the Celtics leaning on their offense. “But I think all year we’ve been good at coming out, having good starts, and for the most part playing 48 minutes. Tonight, we didn’t, and we will next time.”
To their credit, they’ve often come out and responded after a performance like Wednesdays, but if they don’t, it’s a 2-0 deficit that was ultimately avoidable.
The Celtics will look to even the series Friday night at TD Garden, with Game 2 tipping off at 8:30 pm EST.