By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Let’s just get this out of the way. The Celtics were a terrible basketball team in Game 4, and now they’re facing elimination because of their lack of effort in a must-win game. That’s a bit disheartening.
Boston will hopefully be a lot less terrible for Game 5 on Friday night, knowing that if they continue to play terribly, their playoff run will come to an end and they’ll be exiled from the NBA bubble in Orlando.
The Celtics played against two teams in Game 4: Miami and themselves. What was surprising is that despite all their turnovers, despite their best player being in a freezer to start the game, and despite their disjointed offensive attack, the Celtics still had a chance in the fourth quarter. Miami really wasn’t that much better than Boston, but they were a shade less terrible. That makes Boston’s loss and 3-1 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals even more infuriating. This is mostly Boston’s own doing — not the Heat playing like a dominant team.
Boston has to be better in Game 5, because they have no other option at this point. They keep preaching that they will figure it out, whether it was their blown leads in Games 1 and 2 or their… whatever the heck that was in Game 4. But talk is cheap for a team facing elimination. Here’s what they need to do in Game 5 if they want to live to play another game.
Play Desperate, Please
Remember how good the Celtics looked in Game 3, when they led wire to wire and handled the Heat with relative ease? That was fun. They should do that again on Friday night.
Game 3’s performance came from a team that was playing with a level of desperation, a team that understood that with an 0-2 hole, they had no room for error. They weren’t perfect in Game 3, but they came out with the fire they lacked when trying to close out the previous two games. It probably had something to do with the locker room blowout after blowing Game 2, and with their desire to show they weren’t a bunch of chumps who had no business being there.
Apparently the Celtics used up all that fire in Game 3, because it was nowhere to be found in Game 4. The Celtics looked like a team playing in an exhibition game in some random gym in New Hampshire, not a playoff game they had two win. They were flat from the jump, and even when they turned it up in the fourth quarter, they reverted back to their lackadaisical ways down the stretch. The shot selection was putrid, and their ball security was abhorrent.
Boston looked nothing like a desperate team on Wednesday night. Now they’re going to have to be really desperate on Friday if they want to have a game on Sunday.
No Lazy Turnovers
The biggest sign that the Celtics didn’t have it on Wednesday was how little they took care of the ball. They had 11 turnovers at halftime and 19 by the end of the game. Jayson Tatum led the way with six turnovers, while Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown each had four. Turning the ball over was the only thing the Celtics did consistently on Wednesday.
The Celtics shot better than the Heat. They hit more threes. They out-rebounded Miami. Boston could have — and probably should have — won if it weren’t for all of those turnovers.
It’d feel better if we could point to Miami’s zone or its smothering defense for the cause of all those Boston miscues, but Miami had very little to do with them. It was all on the Celtics thanks to lazy passing and a lack of focus on offense.
How does that happen in a Game 4 with a team down 2-1? They need to get it together in Game 5 because any lack of focus is unacceptable, and will raise some major questions about who these Celtics are in what could be a long, long offseason.
Get Tatum Going
The Celtics are built so they can survive if one player is having an off night. Unless, it would seem, if that one player is Jayson Tatum.
Tatum had nothing at the start of Game 4. His shot wasn’t falling, yet he still insisted on putting up shots from deep. He started 0-for-6 and four of those misses came from deep. Instead of trying to attack inside when it was clear that he was lacking his usual lift, front-rimming several of his misses, he kept chucking them up from deep. His attempt to bank in a three on the last possession of the first quarter was an infuriating decision by Boston’s budding star, who has been good for a handful of infuriating decisions this series.
Tatum erupted in the second half because he is pretty good at putting the ball in the basket. Chances are he won’t miss everything in the first half on Friday night. But if he does, it would be nice to see him attack the hoop rather than settle for deep shots to get going.
And that brings us to our final key for Friday night’s game: GET YOUR BUTTS BACK IN THE PAINT!
Led by Bam Adebayo, Miami owned the paint in Game 1, winning the battle down low 48-26. The two teams were evenly matched in Game 2, with Boston owning a slim 46-44 edge in the paint, before the Celtics dominated the restricted area 60-36 in Game 3. That dominance led to some great results for the Celtics, opening up the three-point line and leading to the team’s only win of the series.
They either didn’t get the memo or were afraid of the rim on Wednesday, because the Celtics had just 38 points in the paint. They settled for threes instead of going to the hoop, settling for 40 shots from downtown. It’s time to stop living by the three, and start working the offense inside-out. It shouldn’t be so difficult.