It took six games for the Miami Heat to outlast the Boston Celtics in this year’s Eastern conference finals the Celtics, with Boston actually scoring more points than their opponent (675-674). In a relatively simple game where the objective is to put more points on the board than the other guy you may think that the Celtics actually did their jobs.
Unfortunately, that’s not how any of this works, and for the Celtics what that means is a premature ending to a 12-month NBA odyssey. For their fans however this means it’s time to serve up the annual blame pie.
What began 12 months ago at the still shiny and new Red Auerbach Center in Brighton finally came to an end in Disney World last night with the Celtics' 125-113 loss to the Heat. While at it appeared that the Celtics would force a Game 7 ultimately it was not meant to be and devastatingly it was the same basketball sins that did the Celtics in once again. (To read more about the Celtics' loss, click here.)
As has been he case for the majority of this series it was the Celtics blowing yet another fourth quarter advantage that eventually would lead to their demise and this time their exit from the NBA bubble.
After yet another sluggish start Boston managed to find their groove and with momentum on their and leading 96-90 with nine minutes separating Boston from forcing a Game 7 the Celtics house of cards began crumbling.
Then with just over five minutes remaining and Boston trailing 103-102 Miami went for the jugular and the Celtics house finally collapsed once and for all.
From the 4:59 mark until the two-minute mark of the fourth Boston would miss five three’s, a layup, and a free throw, all while Miami was going on a 13 -0 run that would soon send the Celtics back to Boston.
Miami’s late-game explosion was led by Bam Adebayo, who continued to will his way to the basket, scoring with the kind of intensity Celtics fans had hoped to see from the green. Miami put their final nail in the 2019-20 Celtics' coffin by going on a 26-6 fourth quarter run and sealing the Celtics fate while leaving Celtics fans shaking their collective heads.
Following the game, a subdued Marcus Smart said of Miami “They were just more aggressive, they were getting whatever they wanted. Unfortunately, we didn’t combat it, we didn’t respond the way we should have.” Game 6 however was a microcosm of a series gone wrong, a series in which the Celtics were actually favored to win.
It was the same fatal formula that sent the Celtics packing, and this time packing into their offseason. The combination of falling into early deficits, climbing all the way back and eventually crumbling in the fourth quarter is something that will weigh heavily on the minds of these Celtics for the weeks and months to come. Jayson Tatum said that these losses are something that will make him a better player and better prepared when his chance to shine on the national stage comes again “I think I can learn a lot moving forward from this season, I’ll grow from it.”
The argument can be made that of the Celtics' four losses to Miami, three should have been wins. Losing three out of four games in near identical fashion is a tough pill to swallow for Brad Stevens and his players. However, it’s nothing compared to how Danny Ainge should feel this morning.
Losing this series against Miami, especially in the underwhelming manor in which they did a represents a significant shortfall on Ainge’s part. Ainge’s Celtics have now gone to and lost in the conference finals three of the last four years. Whether it’s falling in love with draft picks, holding onto his own players, his unwillingness or inability to bolster the roster at the trade deadline or his obsession with making sure he wins every trade this most recent failure falls on Ainge.
The good news is that he has the young stars in which to build his team around. The bad news is that young stars aren’t always enough. All the way back in 2008 Ainge knew that veteran pieces off the bench would be critical to winning the Celtics 17th championship (Sam Cassell, PJ Brown, etc.) and this season Pat Riley knew the same thing (Andre Iguodala).
It’s an age-old formula in the NBA, and one that Danny must address in the offseason. Youth is a tricky thing and while young stars are needed to lead the way, older veteran players are counted on to draw the map. Ainge knew this 12 years ago, hopefully this series will serve as the reminder.
The Celtics are close, close enough in fact that maybe a couple of veteran players will believe that they are what’s needed to finally take the them back to the NBA Finals.