I’m so confused.
The game of basketball has its ebbs and flows. All games have runs on both sides and teams have winning streaks and losing streaks. The nature of playoff basketball is even more exaggerated. Even the best teams have bad nights, all the participants are ramped up, and even the biggest underdog can steal a win or two in a series. None of this should be surprising.
And yet I find myself continually flabbergasted by the Boston Celtics.
They have the best defensive personnel in the playoffs and yet there are games where they have as much impact on the shooter as the fans in the front row.
They have two All NBA level players but there are times when Jaylen handles the ball like a nuclear hot potato and Tatum has switched bodies with a newborn colt.
They have the deepest bench in the playoffs but there are times when it looks like Mazzulla is grasping at straws.
I fear that this may be reductive, but on the surface it feels a lot like it boils down to focus and effort. Various players have admitted as much in interviews. But there’s no shortage of motivation. This team knows full well how talented their roster is. They know full well how hard it is to win in the playoffs and get to the Finals. They remember all too clearly the frustration of being so close to the goal and coming up short. All of that should have them laser locked on target and hyped up more than Kevin Garnett playing shuffle board at $100K per point.
And yet they seem to let up and lose focus at the most maddening times possible. No disrespect intended to the Hawks, but if the Celtics are locked in all series that should have been a sweep. In particular they should have won the game where Dejounte Murray was suspended. Likewise, they should have won game 1 of this series when MVP Joel Embiid was missing. I’m not buying the excuse that gameplans get mixed up when key players are missing. They should be ready for that and if anything the gameplan gets simplified.
This team might have an overconfidence problem. They know how good they can be, so they assume they can walk into any game and turn it on. You can put some of that on the coach for not emphasizing the right things, but at some point it falls on the players to keep that focus. The lead usually comes from the best players and so you have to look at Tatum and Brown to set the tone. But by nature they are on the quiet and reserved side, so we might never see them giving motivational speeches or chewing out their teammates for missing assignments. Leadership comes in many forms though, and it probably isn’t fair to judge that too harshly from afar.
So I’m still confused. I don’t know what team is going to show up tonight or for any game in the playoffs. The whole situation is stressful for me as a fan, so I can only imagine what the players and coaches are going through.
The Celtics have all the ingredients to cook. They have the pots and pans and utensils and recopies they need. We’ve seen them produce 5 star Michelin level dishes in the past. We’ve also seen them burn toast and forget key ingredients. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what they have on the menu tonight. Game 2 was a tasty appetizer. I’m ready for some more courses like that.