BOSTON — It feels like this series is over.
Yes, the Boston Celtics are still breathing. But after Tuesday’s disheartening 115-103 loss to Philly in Game 5 at TD Garden, they’re officially on life support.
Boston played uninspired, disorganized and at times selfish basketball for a full four quarters. Not once did they truly threaten to come back, and any time they made any sort of push, Sixers’ head coach Doc Rivers promptly called for time and his team came back out with an immediate response.
“Everything,” Celtics’ guard Marcus Smart said when asked what went wrong. “Everything went wrong. They made every right play, they made every hustle play. Everything went wrong for us that can go wrong.”
It wasn’t until a reserve lineup of Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet and Mike Muscala entered the game in the final minutes that there was any semblance of a sense of urgency on the floor.
Take the third quarter for example. With just about five minutes to play in the frame and the Celtics facing a 73-59 deficit, Boston’s home crowd rose to their feet with hopes of instilling some life into their beloved team. Instead, Philly whipped the ball around the court and found Tyrese Maxey (30 points) for a wide open corner 3-ball.
Three minutes later, the TD Garden faithful erupted with a “Let’s go Celtics” chant, once again looking to spark something from their squad. Boston promptly turned the ball over and De’Anthony Melton streaked to the rim for an uncontested, breakaway layup.
Those two instances right there tell you just about all you need to know about the Celtics’ lackluster performance.
Now, there’s literally no room left for error. Backs against the wall, Game 6 in Philly on Thursday, win or go home.
There’s no more, “what if we do this?”, or “maybe we can try this.” You either have it or you don’t, and right now, Celtics fans have every reason to believe the latter.
“That was our first really, really bad game of the playoffs,” said Celtics’ head coach Joe Mazzulla. “Doesn’t come at necessarily the best time but we just have to shift our perspective and get ready for the next game.”
You can point a finger at any number of individuals for why this postseason has, so far, been an unmitigated disaster. “Joe Mazzulla is in over his head”, “Jayson Tatum doesn’t have a killer instinct”, “Jaylen Brown coughs it up too much and doesn’t hunt his shot late in games” … there’s some truth in all of those tired sentiments.
But the fact of the matter is that this disappointing stretch falls on everyone. From owner Wyc Grousbeck and executive Brad Stevens all the way down to the coaching staff and players within the locker room.
On paper, Boston is a better team than Philadelphia. That sentiment arguably rings true against any other team in the league, too. But they’ve crumbled under pressure, failed to deliver when the moment’s there for the taking, and now find themselves in a 3-2 hole against a team they’ve utterly dominated in recent years.
Any glimmer of hope remaining in the Celtics’ lamp hangs in the balance of Thursday’s game.
Bring it, play Celtics basketball, or enter the history books as one of the few “what could have been” teams in recent history.
Some telling statistics from Tuesday’s setback:
– MVP winner Joel Embiid finished with a game-high 33 points and seven rebounds. His primary defender, Al Horford, had ZERO points on 0-for-7 shooting (all threes). Boston played Embiid soft, giving him a number of uncontested or badly contested mid range shots throughout the contest.
– Sixers’ guard Tyrese Maxey was largely the most impactful player on the floor, going for 30 points (6-for-12 from deep), 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
– Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 36 points, but it was the most misleading offensive performance imaginable. He shot just 11-for-27 from the field, continuously settled for long jumpers (he shot 3-for-11 from deep) and was a team-worst MINUS-26 in a 12-point loss.
– Boston shot 39 percent from the field (33-for-83) and 31 percent from distance (12-for-38). Philadelphia was nearly 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. Boston played a ton of isolation heavy offense while Philly moved the ball with a purpose and played with pace.
– Philly out-rebounded Boston 49-36.
– Boston got just 22 points from their bench, with Payton Pritchard doing most of the damage as he scored eight points in garbage time.
BOSTON — It feels like this series is over.