Forsberg: Celtics get reminder of who they don't want to be originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
So much has gone right in CelticsLand this season that it’s jarring whenever this team hits even a small bump in the road.
Everything was sunshine and sandcastles for a team that had won 14 of its last 15 games entering Friday night’s rematch with the Miami Heat. Boston had a chance to sweep a six-game homestand notable for its abundance of good vibes.
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Instead, the Celtics gave us Playoffs PTSD. Turnovers. A Jayson Tatum clunker. Jimmy Butler domination in crunch time. Bench inconsistency. Everything that complicated Boston’s quest for Banner 18 five months ago cropped back up on Friday night and the Celtics endured their third overtime loss of the season.
In the big picture, it’s a blip. The Celtics still own the best record in basketball (by two games) and their play over the first quarter of the season has suggested they are most assuredly the best team in basketball.
But Friday was an unwanted reminder of everything this team has strived to improve upon this year, most notably:
- A head-slapping 20 turnovers. Coming off postseason ball security woes, the Celtics lingered among the league leaders in turnover percentage to start he new campaign. But they repeatedly kicked the ball away leading to 21 Miami points on Friday night. "We just didn't take care of the ball,” said Grant Williams.
- A rare Tatum dud. The MVP frontrunner missed 13 of the 18 shots he took, including all seven of his 3-point attempts. Tatum had a chance to erase an ugly outing but back-rimmed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of overtime. Unlike a lot of games this season where Tatum found other ways to impact winning despite poor shooting, he produced maybe his quietest overall outing of the season.
- Jimmy Butler offering a firm reminder that he’s a bad man in crunch time. Butler, who missed the first of two games in Boston, hit multiple clutch shots to stiff arm all of Boston’s advances and, if not for a Jaylen Brown 30-foot, banked 3-point prayer at the end of regulation, this game doesn’t even get to an extra session.
- Some rare bench woes. The Celtics’ new-look second unit has been a major bright spot through the first quarter of the season. But on Friday night, in a game with a playoff feel, the four bench players that appeared were a combined minus-49 in plus/minus. Like Tatum, Malcolm Brogdon struggled to find a rhythm, missing 5 of 7 shots and was minus-20 in 21 minutes. Williams was excellent (6-8 FG, 3-4 3PT, 18 points) and deservedly got the crunch-time call but the bench as a whole didn’t provide the usual jolt.
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Now, Brown was spectacular and did all he could to try to carry the Celtics. The team squandered a night where he went for 37 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists (five turnovers did detract slightly from his brilliance). The Celtics will lament some rare free-throw line struggles after missing seven of 28 attempts.
The Celtics need to move on fast from the setback. Boston kicks off a six-game road trip on Sunday in Brooklyn where the spotlight is always a little harsher given the ties between the teams. There’s two back-to-backs during a road trip that hopscotches from frigid Canada to balmy Arizona before spanning all of the California coast.
"This team knows that we have a special group. To have the success that we've had, we have to go through games like these,” said Williams. "You're not going to be perfect. You're going to have to go to the drawing board and regroup and understand where we can improve. If you don't have games like these, moments like these, you won't have that opportunity.
"We have to do a better job of executing [in crunch time] in games like these and especially entire moments. We're fortunate to have leads most of these games so far this season. To play against a team like this where it was a slower pace and playing in the halfcourt, the next thing you know is it's a tie game at the end of the game those last six minutes there. We gotta do a better job of executing. We got good looks; didn't fall. Sometimes they don't fall. Just to continue to try to improve.
“We always say, you can't be too hard on yourselves because you have to tide the waves. Stay even with the tides, don't let it go up and down. Just focus on yourself and just focus on the growth that you're progressing."