BOSTON (CBS) — Wednesday night was a frustrating one for the Celtics, and they really have no one to blame but themselves. They had zero energy to start Game 4, and their lack of gusto led to turnover after turnover after turnover after turnover — 19 in all in an exacerbating 112-109 loss to the Miami Heat.
Now the Celtics are down 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and there is a full-court press in the blame game. It didn’t look like anyone in a Celtics uniform was ready to play in Game 4, which is terrifying considering the team was still down in the series. That has a lot of folks pointing the finger at head coach Brad Stevens.
But Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge is not one of those people.
“Not even a little bit,” Ainge said Thursday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich when asked if he blames Stevens for Boston’s Game 4 performance. “Last night, we had so many good stretches in the course of the game, you can see that our players are prepared. It’s just being able to sustain it. The turnovers, there were so many that were unforced turnovers. So that is frustrating. I’ve always been a person that took blame as a player. I’ve coached in the NBA and understand how hard coaching is. I’ve sat on the bench watching a player shoot free throws, and thought, ‘If he makes them I’m a great coach and if he misses I’m a terrible coach,’ and that’s just not the way. If we had squeaked out a win last night we don’t question anything, but when you lose by three points you question everything.
“Brad is the first one to take responsibility and accountability for us not playing well. He got the least amount of sleep as anybody last night,” added Ainge. “I don’t question my coach and I don’t question my players. I look at what they’re doing and last night was a night I was very frustrated, because I didn’t think anything Miami was doing caused us to make the mistakes that we made.”
It’s that last point by Ainge that made Wednesday night so frustrating. The Heat didn’t do anything special defensively, employing their 2-3 zone for most of the evening, which is nothing new for the Celtics. The majority of Boston’s turnovers were by their own baking and had nothing to do with Miami. They were caused by rushed passes and players trying to do too much — or in a few cases, players not doing enough. Miami was the hungrier team when it came to getting to loose balls, which goes against everything the Celtics have been throughout the season.
“Last night was a rough one. I just didn’t feel like we had it from the beginning,” said Ainge. “We had a good spurt to take the lead late in the game, but we were throwing the ball all over the place. We didn’t have the same confidence and swag we had in Game 3 and it’s hard to know why. You give your opponent credit – oftentimes you say we didn’t come out to play or play hard enough, but a lot of times the opponent has something to with that.”
Ainge expects the team to be much better and much more focused when they take the floor for Friday night’s Game 5.
“We’re a way better team than we played last night. I’m very confident our guys will come out in a completely different mindset,” he said. “I don’t think they’re happy with how they played individually and collectively, and I think we’ll have a much better game in Game 5. I don’t think this team is done yet.”
But if the season does end on Friday and the Celtics are sent home from the NBA bubble in five games in the Conference Finals, it will be a disappointing end to an otherwise promising season. The Celtics were always a longshot to win it all, but with the Bucks being dispatched in the second round and Boston overcoming the Raptors in seven games to reach the East Finals, the road was there to make a run to the Finals. Coming up short at this point will feel like a wasted opportunity.
But Ainge will not consider the season a failure should the Celtics be sent home before the Finals.
“I always hate those kinds of questions. It depends. It certainly has not been a failure up to this point, in my opinion,” he said. “We beat a really, really good Toronto team. I do believe that we are at least equals if not better than Miami. It’s disappointing we’re behind 3-1 but the season isn’t over. We’ll see how these last few games go. Last night was a disappointing game, and that’s as far as I’ll go.”