By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For the second straight game, the Boston Celtics were their own worst enemy. They blew yet another double-digit lead on Thursday night, falling 106-101, and now they’re in an 0-2 hole to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics came out determined to prove that letting Game 1 slip away — blowing a 14-point advantage early in the fourth quarter — isn’t who they are. Not with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. They were a team possessed, barely missing in the second quarter as they jumped out to a 17-point advantage. Boston took a 13-point cushion into the locker room at halftime after they hit nearly 60 percent of their shots over the first 24 minutes.
They built that lead thanks to Kemba Walker busting out of his slump to the tune of 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Boston was also dominant in the paint, thanks largely to Brad Stevens releasing Enes Kanter (nine points, six rebounds in the first half), and outscored Miami 32-18 down low.
But then it happened again. It turns out there is no cushion too comfy for Celtics fans this postseason.
All of the issues from Game 1 were back in the third quarter, which has been a house of horrors for the Celtics going back to last series against the Raptors. Boston suffered from lapses on defense, leading to easy buckets for Miami. They stopped moving the ball and the offense once again became stagnant. And when the C’s tried to get that movement back, the ball ended up in Miami’s hands.
The Heat erased a 15-point deficit in the third, outscoring the Celtics by 20 points in the frame. Boston committed seven of its 20 turnovers in the quarter. They fouled Jae Crowder as he sank a three, giving the former Celtic a four-point play that sparked an 11-0 run. Jayson Tatum had a terrible brain cramp at the end of the quarter, driving to the basket with 22 seconds left instead of hanging on for the last shot. He was hit with an offensive foul, and Goran Dragic went down the floor and gave Miami two more points on Tatum’s gifted possession.
Miami owned a seven-point lead heading into the fourth after outscoring the Celtics 23-6 over the final 6:19 of the third. It was ugly.
The Celtics fought back and even had a five-point lead with just over four minutes to go thanks to a 15-2 run. But that lead was also vaporized by their own undoing. A Walker turnover turned into a Jimmy Butler dunk. Despite being in the bonus, Boston relied too much on the three-ball again, and didn’t hit on any of their three attempts from downtown over the final minutes of the game. A Kemba missed three turned into a made three by Dragic, and a Butler steal led to an easy layup for Crowder, giving the Heat a seven-point lead that was too much for Boston to overcome.
The Celtics were once again stuck in the mud in the second half. After running their way to 13 fast-break points in the first half, they never added to that in the second. They didn’t even attempt a fast-break shot. And after feasting in the paint in the first half, they had just 14 points in the paint in the second to Miami’s 26.
Point to Miami’s zone defense if you want, but the Celtics did this all to themselves.
Tempers flared after Thursday night’s loss, with Marcus Smart berating the team and trying to send some locker room objects into orbit. That probably isn’t a bad thing, and if they’re lucky, could provide a spark for the Celtics. They should be miffed at themselves. They could be up 2-0, but are down 0-2. And they have no one to blame but themselves.
Celtics players continue to say all the right things after these crushing defeats. They’re vowing to be better in Game 3 on Saturday night, adamant that they’ll learn from their mistakes. They won’t let up if they get out to a big lead. They’ll get back to playing like a team instead of playing too much hero ball.
But we’ve heard all of this before, and the same issues keep popping up. The Celtics haven’t put a full 48 minutes together in any of their last four games.
Maybe Kemba Walker is back to being Kemba Walker. Perhaps Gordon Hayward will be back for Game 3, and that should help the C’s bust Miami’s zone. But none of that will matter if the Celtics don’t stay invested from start to finish. They know this, but now they need to show it.