Late game collapses are something the Boston Celtics dealt with at the beginning of the NBA season, and until recently, it looked like they had learned from those mistakes.
Since the turn of the calendar year, Boston has been one of the best teams in the NBA, consistently handling their business and earning a reputation as one of the most fierce defensive teams the league has to offer. Yet, in their second-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics have begun finding themselves reverting to old habits, leading them to drop games from winning positions.
On May 11, in game six of the second round, the Celtics laid a goose egg down the stretch, ultimately surrendering their lead. Now, Boston faces two win-or-go-home games, with the first of them coming at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, but things could have been different if only the team had executed on their final few possessions of game six.
However, it’s unfair to place all of the blame on the Celtics, as their mistakes were not unforced. As the final whistle drew near, Milwaukee ramped up their intensity on both ends of the floor and reaped the rewards – something Patrick Beverley credited them for during a recent appearance on NBA Today.
“I think that Milwaukee played good defense down there; all the offense we saw Milwaukee have towards the end, all that came from transition. Transition comes from defense, so you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for being good on the defensive end.
Of course, you’ve got Marcus Smart; he’s been making plays all series. It’s just one of those games where he came up short. You know, just shower, toss it up, and get ready for the next game. But this is a game that Boston could have and should have won,” Patrick Beverley said on a recent episode of ESPN’s NBA Today.
Kendrick Perkins Identifies Turning Point
The Celtics have an illustrious alumni, many of whom have tasted the highest level of success on a basketball court. One of their former champions is now an analyst for ESPN, and following their loss to Milwaukee, Kendrick Perkins shared his thoughts on where it all went wrong for his former team.
“Their biggest issue is that they went away from got them the lead in the fourth quarter, and that was dominating in the paint. When you look at the Celtics, they had 50 points in the paint last night. Jayson Tatum, when he gets into the mindset that he’s going to attack the basket when he attacks the basket and gets to the free-throw line, he can’t be stopped, but when he starts to settle, that’s a problem,” Kendrick Perkins said.
Tatum has struggled to make an impact in this series, as the Bucks’ rim protection has limited his opportunities around the rim, which has forced him to take tougher shots from the perimeter and mid-range.
Udoka Bemoans Rebounding Issues
The Celtics were already susceptible to attacks at the rim without Robert Williams in the lineup due to injury, and that became even more apparent when the team gave up seven offensive rebounds in the first half. By the end of the game, the Bucks had pilfered 17 offensive boards as they physically dominated the Celtics around the rim.
“That’s the story of the game. They have 17 for 26 second-chance points, and most of those came in the second half. They only had six in the first half, so we were doing a good job as far as that. To give up 14, especially on those specific plays where they got kick-out threes, some were long rebounds, so they were a little bit tougher, but we got to find bodies obviously on those. And then the free throw one stands out,” Udoka told reporters after the game.
As the Celtics head back to Milwaukee for game six, they will be hoping Williams is fit to play so that they have the rim protection they drastically need to limit Milwaukee’s chances of crashing the boards so easily.
Unfortunately for Boston, this isn’t the Brooklyn Nets series, and nothing will come easy. So, if they want to progress into the conference finals, they have to raise their game to new levels, starting with re-discovering their defensive identity and protecting the paint.