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The Roar


Big three problems facing Boston as Celtics try to claw back series against Philadelphia

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Roar Rookie
3rd May, 2023

The Boston Celtics have one of the most talented and deepest rosters in the league, they have experience, great offennce and defense and it sees them as one of the favourites for the 2023 NBA championship.

However, they have three problems that ultimately could come back to bite them.

Problem 1: “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings”.

While there are no fat ladies singing inside TD Garden, the Celtics may want to hire one.

Whether it be a three point lead, 10 point lead or in some cases a 28-point lead, it seems as if the Celtics have never really secured the victory until the timer hits zero.

Is it down to having an inexperienced head coach in Joe Mazzulla? Bad execution from the players? Or is it simply because the other team begins to not only start taking, but making home-run threes?

Really, it can come down to all three of these factors and maybe more too, but the reality is, an inability to close out games that should be wrapped up, has cost this group of Celtics time and time again, not only just this season, but arguably in the last five seasons.


There are many examples of them becoming complacent with a healthy lead, but just in the last two playoff runs, it’s become clear that no matter what the score shows, don’t expect Boston to coast to victory.

The prime example of this, and a game that could have potentially gone down as one of the worst chokes in NBA history, was game seven of the 2022 eastern conference finals.

With 25 seconds left, Marcus Smart goes into hero mode (as he so often does), attempting to make a heavily contested layup. As expected it misses and Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler grabs the rebound and sets off in transition.

As Butler rushes up, the floor is terrifically spaced, with two shooters in Max Strus and Victor Oladipo running to opposite corners, drawing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to them, it gives Butler the perfect chance to drive to the cup against the much bigger and slower Al Horford, where a layup would tie the game with only 15 seconds left.

Instead the career 32.3% three point shooter pulls up for the all or nothing three with the hope of a one-point lead.

Did he not have enough gas in the tank left to drive into the paint? Did Butler think that the younger Celtics would outlast the Heat in overtime so he needed to win immediately? Maybe Butler remembered the 76ers vs Raptors game seven from 2019, where he did go for the layup only for Kawhi Leonard to bounce home the game winner.


Had he hit the three it would have gone down as one of the biggest shots in playoff history, instead it hits the front rim and the ball finds Horford who quickly throws it ahead to Smart and with the shot clock turned off, the Heat have no choice but to play the foul game, where Smart steps up to the line a calmly knocks them both down to send the Celtics to the finals.

While Boston could celebrate a trip to the finals, it really shouldn’t have taken a missed three to get there, as with 2:45 left in the game, the Celtics were up by 11 and looked to have the game secured.

For anyone else watching, it was game over, some fans may have elected to change the channel to catch Sundays ‘prime time’ HBO shows, but Celtics fans knew that this is where their team is most vulnerable.

The win meant most forget that Boston were on the verge of one of the worst collapses in NBA history, however it also meant the team didn’t learn from their mistakes, as numerous times the following season they built up healthy leads, just to let their opponent back in the game.

The expectation was once the playoffs began, the Celtics could put their bad habits behind them and while their inability to hold onto leads, as well as beat teams much more inferior then them during the regular season cost them the one seed, they could still prevail.

The news only got better for them as their biggest competitor in the East in the Milwaukee Bucks, got knocked out in the first round thanks to Jimmy Butler turning into prime Michael Jordan.


Their next biggest threat in the Philadelphia 76ers, may have swept Brooklyn, however a serious knee injury to MVP Joel Embiid meant that if Boston could close out their series against Atlanta at home in game five, they could get the 76ers off a short break and limit the amount of rest time Embiid could get.

To make things even easier for the Celtics, Atlanta Hawks all-star Dejonte Murray, would be suspended for game five after making contact with a referee after game four.

So with a 10-point lead at home, with only 5:24 seconds left against a seven seed team, missing their best (or second best, depending how you rate Trae Young) player, you’d think it was over.

Of course it wasn’t, and after a game winning three by Young, the series was headed back to Atlanta for game six.

The Celtics at least closed it on the road, and with the Embiid injury looking even worse, they’d go into game one as heavy favourites as the MVP centre would be in street clothes. Really, it should be an easy win and a 1-0 start to the series, but this is where problem two comes into play.

Marcus Smart. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Problem 2: No star? No problem (if you’re playing Boston)


When the Bucks lost Giannis Antetokounmpo to a back injury for two and a half games in their first round match-up against the Heat, many expected the Bucks to still prevail, but it certainly felt as if Miami now had a genuine chance to knock them off.

While the Heat only won two out of the three games Giannis missed, it was a major turning point, and even with Giannis, Miami was able to ride their momentum and win the series in just five games.

Had that been the Celtics, they probably would have lost the series in four games and Giannis wouldn’t have even needed to suit up.

It seems like a strange thing to say about a team that’s so successful, but for some reason, if their opponent is missing one of, if not their best player, the Celtics just always seem to lose.

It may be because they get too complacent, or they just think they can sleep walk through the game, but the reality is, championship teams shouldn’t be doing this.

This season the C’s have lost to the Thunder without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Heat without Butler, the Suns without Devin Booker, the Wizards without Bradley Beal, the Knicks without Jalen Brunson and the Hawks in the playoffs without Murray.

All of those games should have been wins for the Celtics, yet they just couldn’t get the job done.


So it came as no surprise that once Embiid was ruled out of game one, Celtics twitter were all genuinely concerned that they may actually drop the game. Non Celtics fans may have thought it was a reverse jinx, but no one knows their own team like its fans.

A four point loss to the Embiid-less Sixers saw one of the most disappointing losses the Celtics have incurred this season, and problem three is why they lost.

Problem 3: You get a career night! You get a career night! Everyone gets a career night!!! (again, only if you’re playing Boston)

Smart won the defensive player of the year last season, Rob Williams made the All-defensive team, Tatum and Brown are solid defenders, so too are Horford, Derrick White and Malcom Brogdon.

With all of these defensive weapons, it’s no surprise Boston had the second best defensive rating for the season, yet, it feels as if a lot of players seem to rack up big scores against them.

For context here are some notable scoring performances the Celtics have given up this season:


– Trae Young: 38 points
– Joel Embiid: 52 points, 41 points
– Donovan Mitchell: 40 points, 44 points, 41 points
– Immanuel Quickley: 38 points
– Mikal Bridges: 38 points
– Myles Turner: 40 points
– Jrue Holiday: 40 points
– LeBron James: 41 points
– Julius Randle: 37 points
– Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 37 points
– Demar DeRozan: 46 points
– Caris Levert: 41 points
– James Harden: 35 points, 45 points

While some players listed above are All-NBA calibre, some of them are also not the type of players you should be allowing to torch you defense, and sure, not all of these performances led to the Celtics losing, but most of them did, and to have such a highly rated defense, but allow over 17 performances of 35-plus points to occur, is a concern.

So, with individuals clearly allowed to get hot and rack up a healthy score, it should come as no surprise that Harden was able to equal his playoff career in points with 45, which notably only involved four free throws.

Some nights players can see the hoop double, even triple in size, as seemingly every shot falls in, yet it occurs far too often against this Celtics team, and really after a strong first half scoring performance, there should be adjustments made to limit the damage a player does in the second half.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 10: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors in the second half during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Golden State Warriors won 107-97. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Jayson Tatum. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s why when a player has 25 points at half time, simple math would tell you that they should be on their way to at least 50, but more often than not, they don’t even crack 40 as new defensive schemes are put in place to slow them down.

Boston showed they can do it, as Trae Young had 25 points at half time in game six, yet only finished with 30 for the game, but unfortunately for the Celtics, they didn’t even get close to slowing Harden down, as he coolly sunk the game winning three over Horford.


The Celtics are by no means out of contention for the championship, and you can put every team under the microscope and find several problems with them.

That being said, their failure to hold onto leads, their ability to lose to an opponent missing a star player, and the fact that players clearly have no issues scoring in the mid 30s to 40s on them, may be the reasons why they aren’t hoisting up a banner this year.