Why this Celtics' loss made us think about Brad Stevens

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The Celtics are playing bad defense. 

Celtics defense is allowing 118 points per 100 possessions in Orlando bubble. Only Blazers and Sixers have been worse on D out of the 22 bubble teams.

— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) August 5, 2020

Marcus Smart fouled out with 3:46 left in the THIRD quarter, with the guy Christian Fauria identified as the Celtics' most important player having one of his worst pro games even before exiting. (He had three points, no assists, one rebound, and went 0-for-5 from the field.)

The C's got out of their game because of issues with the referees.

JT: "We let our emotions play too much of a part today." #Celtics pic.twitter.com/Jt86qUHhnf

— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 5, 2020

There was a lot of blame to go around when it came to this 112-106 loss to Miami.

And while Brad Stevens probably doesn't even crack the Top 5 in terms of identifying the cause for this one, the image of what unfolded did make one ponder what is at stake for the Celtics coach. Even with the bizarre circumstances surrounding this bubble basketball -- (heck, the Nets beat the Bucks despite coming in as 19-point underdogs) -- this upcoming run should be a big swing in terms of how we define a coach who has now been at the helm for seven years now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra undoubtedly got the better of Stevens in this one, winning the second game of a back-to-back without star Jimmy Butler while befuddling the Celtics with extended zone defense for much of the game. And when the Celtics' coach tried his hand at getting creative, going with the undersized lineup of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward in the third quarter, the Heat easily countered thanks in large part to center Bam Adebayo.

The Celtics are only three games into this eight-game run-up to the postseason and Miami seems simply like a team that has hit the ground running. And, let's face it, there is no clear-cut opponent the C's should be rooting to play the way things are going. 

Boston still sits in the Eastern Conference's No. 3 spot, 1 1/2 game up on the Heat and 2 1/2 over the Pacers. Right now Stevens' team would be opening up against the dysfunctional but talented Sixers but could slide into a scarier showdown with Miami or Indiana (who have won three straight).

But no matter who the opponent, the coaching conversation will be looming.

Barring an uncertainty on the interior, the Celtics have the talent to compete with anyone in the East. But can Stevens overachieve against the conference's coaching iron? Milwaukee's Mike Budenholzer has already owned the C's coach multiple postseason series, both with Atlanta and Milwaukee. Toronto's Nick Nurse might be considered the best coach in the NBA right now. Spoelstra and Nate McMillan are both considered upper-echelon coaches.

Stevens is undoubtedly a good coach. You don't make it to the Eastern Conference finals in back-to-back seasons if you're not. And perhaps these circumstances aren't the fairest to judge anybody on.

But this is a team the C's boss clearly likes a whole better than a year ago, and one that is probably considered more talented than Kyrie Irving's group. The pieces are there, and there has been plenty of postseason experience for all involved.

Fair or not, a fan-less crossroads is coming for Stevens. Tuesday night was a reminder of that reality.