More Jekyll or more Hyde? No matter your own personal flavor, I’m quite certain of one thing: the Celtics aren’t sure themselves.
The 112-109 Game 4 loss doesn’t tell the real story at all. This was not a three-point loss. The Celtics looked clunky in the first quarter and never really came fully right all night. From the opening possession it was clear the Celtics knew what they had to do, but for some reason were going to have trouble doing it.
The game was ugly from the start and ended in an all too familiar disappointing fashion.
The formula for these 2020 Celtics to win this series and dare I say the NBA Championship is obvious to all: share the ball, drive to the basket and defend tenaciously. When they do those three elementary tasks good things happen. In Game 2 they completely negated that formula, blinded by and dumbfounded by a zone defense, something they should have been well versed in from years of youth, high school and college basketball.
They weren’t though and neither was coach Brad Stevens, who made his bacon as a coach at the collegiate level and should have instinctively known in-game how to beat it. Instead, they reacted like the zone defense was a new concept, suddenly burst at them from outer space. They looked confused and played confused, like how a dog might look at a newspaper before he pees on it.
Immediately following that discombobulated Game 2 performance, Mr. Hyde forcefully appeared and did what Mr. Hyde does. Throw a tantrum. It was a good old family dispute with some added and needed angry flavor mixed in, featuring some unhinged, college-age chair throwing in the locker room.
The result for the Celtics was good. Very good actually. Game 3 offered legitimate hope that this series could change its course quickly, after the Celtics dominated the Heat from start to finish in every way and by any conceivable basketball measurement.
Hyde 1 – Jekyll 2.
It was clear however, the momentum belonged to Hyde and most certainly, based on what we saw in Game 3, Game 4 would settle the score and even the series.
Then Wednesday night happened. The result? More Jekyll.
The label of being deemed ‘consistently inconsistent’ is perhaps overused in general terms, but the theme in terms of game to game performance for this team, in this series, has become a real thing. Clichés and hyperbole aside, the Celtics are infuriatingly inconsistent at the most basic things.
Urgency? Inconsistent. Aggressiveness? Inconsistent. Ball security and playing cleanly? Wildly inconsistent. These are all things that good teams, never mind championship level teams, are able to control on a consistent basis. The Celtics do and then they don’t and it’s for that reason specifically that they are down 3-1 in a series that they should be in control of.
So what now? I don’t feel like playing the blame game at this juncture of the series because there is plenty to go around, but I am looking for answers and solutions as the Celtics’ backs are now firmly against the wall.
When it comes to cleaning up the little things mentioned above that your team can control, then I look squarely at the coach on the sideline in terms of pregame preparation. Brad Stevens needs to force the issue more. He preached playing forcefully last night in what we saw of his pregame speech on television; my feedback would be for him to be more forceful and urgent in his messaging to his troops.
Clearly they obviously aren’t getting the message consistently enough, as the same issues keep reoccurring, specifically with turnovers and taking care of the ball. The Celtics don’t look urgent enough to me in that aspect of the game.
In terms of execution during the game, I look to the coach on the floor and that is the point guard. That is Kemba Walker. Kemba is likeable, clutch and smooth within the flow of play. He’s always accountable too in a genuine way, which is refreshing following his very unlikeable predecessor Kyrie Irving.
However, when the game isn’t flowing the right way and the ball is getting into the wrong hands, it’s the quarterback on the floor that needs to takeover. Egos aside on a team filled with emerging stars, the point guard, no matter the pedigree surrounding him, owns that responsibility.
Now Walker is a high pedigree player himself, who can score at will and do it all. If this series has a chance to turn around however, it’ll be less about his skill and more about his ability to control and orchestrate this offense. That’s what’s needed and that’s what is within his control.
Shots fall and shots miss, but the focus of getting the ball into the right hands, including his own, and making sure the turnovers are minimized are within the control of the point guard. Same goes for Marcus Smart, who has his hands on the flow of the play nearly as much.
Consistency is achieved by doing the little things well. Just look again at the roadmap their friends in Foxboro have nearly perfected. That’s where the answers are. Focusing on the little things will lead to the consistency this team so desperately needs to get back in this series.
Game 5 will reveal all. Or will it? That’s up to the Celtics.