Did fatigue contribute to Celtics' demise in NBA Finals? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Did a grueling second half of the 2021-22 NBA season come back to bite the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals?
You won't hear any excuses from the C's after their season came to an unceremonious end Thursday night, but a closer look at the numbers shows fatigue definitely could've been a factor. Boston's key players -- Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford -- logged almost 2,000 more minutes than the Golden State Warriors' "Big Four" of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green.
The Celtics had an 18-21 record as of Jan. 7, forcing them to keep their foot on the gas for the entire second half of the campaign. The Warriors, meanwhile, started their season 29-9 and could coast their way to a playoff spot. From that point on, the Celtics went 47-20 (including playoffs) while the Warriors went 40-26.
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The table below breaks down total number of minutes played by the four key players on each team during the regular season and playoffs. It's worth noting Curry, Thompson and Green each missed during the regular season due to injury.
Those numbers indicate Golden State had the fresher legs in the series, but Celtics head coach Ime Udoka isn't convinced physical fatigue cost them a shot at a title.
"Anytime you play some tough, seven-game series, there's going to be some of that," he said following the Game 6 loss. "We had time off. I think we came in refreshed, energetic throughout the series.
"I'm sure that's part of it. Not only mental but physical as well, with Rob (Williams) playing through some of the things he was, being in and out in previous series. It probably had a toll on Al where we had to overextend him at times. Jayson and Jaylen grinding us out of, Marcus as well, all those guys had some bumps and bruises at some point. Having to fight those two hard-fought seven-game series.
"Probably had something to do with some physical fatigue, but I think everybody is going through some of that in the playoffs. We had enough initially early. But it was more mental lapses than physical, in my opinion."
As well as the Warriors played over the final nine quarters of the series, the Celtics beat themselves. They had 18 turnovers in their Game 5 defeat and a whopping 22 in the Game 6 finale. Those mental miscues ultimately were the difference-maker.
All the C's can do now is hope to avoid digging themselves a hole again in 2022-23. A strong start to next season would go a long way toward preserving their stars for another deep playoff run, and perhaps another shot at the elusive Banner 18.