Things are looking bleak for the Celtics Celtics, who are now down 2-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks after dropping Game 3 at home.
This 2 game rough stretch for the C’s was bound to happen. This Celtics team has been on a rollercoaster ride all year. Winning a couple games, getting a good rhythm going, then immediately destroying that rhythm, after dropping a couple winnable games.
For as good as the Celtics looked in the 1st round, against the Pacers, it was hard to believe that they had truly turned it around. Indiana was struggling coming into the Playoffs, limping to the finish line. Their top 3 players were arguably Bojan Bogdanović, Tyreke Evans, and Wesley Matthews, all solid players, but no stars. And what happened in the 1st round? Although they swept, the Celtics played 4 fairly close games with the Pacers. The team was playing well, but they still weren’t exceeding expectations.
Now, looking at where the Celtics stand in Semifinals, facing the Bucks, it’s easy to see why everyone had their doubts about this team. They get things rolling, just like they did in Game 1, then easily give it all away, like we saw in Games 2 and 3. Boston does not handle adversity well. All year, when adversity hit this team, they rolled over. The Playoffs are full of adversity. A team is going to be hit with adversity every game. And if you can’t overcome that, you’re going to be going home pretty quick.
The Celtics are now faced with the ultimate adversity. Once you go down 3-1, it’s typically over. The series is over. Teams that have gone up 3-1 in the past have gone on to win the series 97% of the time. If no one was keeping track here, if the Celtics lose Monday night, they’ll be down 3-1. And does anyone see this team digging themselves out of that kind of hole? No! No way! This team hasn’t proved anything! They’ve been mostly talk. They have never indicated to the public that they can just turn it around and win a couple of key games. That’s not how the NBA works.
Every game is a must win in the Playoffs, but Game 4 in Boston is going to truly exercise that. What the Celtics have shown this series is that they can compete with Milwaukee. That’s a known fact. In Game 1, the team came out with a tremendous game plan. They shut down Giannis, played physical, limited Milwaukee’s offensive attempts, moved the ball well, made shots, played with a lot of energy, and came out with a 22 point win. What we saw in the 1st half of Game 2 was much of the same. Milwaukee’s 3-point shooters shot the ball better, Giannis presented himself a bit more, the game was competitive. But in the 3rd quarter the 1st real adversity hit the Celtics. Up 3, Milwaukee went crazy, going on a 29-2 run. The game was over after the run, but what happened during it was a bit disturbing, if you’re a Celtics fan. There was 0 response to what was developing. Milwaukee continuously made ridiculous shots, bullied the Celtics around the rim, got to the free throw stripe, and played to the crowd. It was clear what was happening. The Bucks were in the midst of one of their huge road runs. What did the Celtics do? They panicked. The team stopped moving the ball and it became hero ball time. Every time down the floor, about 6-8 seconds were ran off the shot clock, the ball was passed maybe once, and then someone would throw up a contested 3 or long 2. There was no, “Let’s get to the free throw line,” “Let’s slow it down,” “Let’s drive to the hoop.” It was, “I got this!” And this is the worst part. This is what the Celtics have looked like all year long! Multiple guys on the team have talked about turning it around several times, talked about how the team has changed, but we keep coming back to this same problem, almost 90 games into the season. If it hasn’t changed by now, it probably will never change.
In Game 3, the Celtics competed once again. They held a 12 point lead at one point, held a lead at halftime, and went back and forth with the Bucks in the 3rd quarter. With that being said, another problem arose. Bench play. The Boston bench got absolutely whooped in Game 3, while the Milwaukee bench did a lot of the whooping. Pat Connaughton, yes the Pat Connaughton from Notre Dame, and George Hill, YES GEORGE F’ING HILL, combined to score 35 of Milwaukee’s 42 bench points. For Boston, the bench managed only 16 points, 10 coming from Gordon Hayward and 6 coming from Semi Ojeleye. It was a huge deciding factor in the game. Both Pat Connaughton and George Hill were part of huge runs for the Bucks. Pat Connaughton scored 8 straight points in the 1st quarter to keep the Bucks in range and scored a couple big ones during Milwaukee’s run, after going down 12. As for George Hill, he just about put the Celtics away, scoring on nearly every possession near the end of the 3rd quarter to put the Bucks up 12, heading into the 4th. Boston never hopped back into the game, fell down a lot, and found themselves down 2-1. I know the Celtics want to win this series, but if you’re giving up big games to George Hill and Pat Connaughton on your home floor, you’re probably walking away with L’s and that’s exactly what happened in Game 3.
What needs to happen in Game 4 is perfection. Boston has to come out and play a good game all the way through for 48 minutes. They haven’t quite done that this series and it’s shown, obviously now that they’re down 2-1. The ball has to be moving, guys have to be aggressive, and be taking smart shots. No long 2’s, no contested 3’s, and no early shot clock chuck-ups. Nobody wants to see any of that in Game 4. On the defensive end, it’s all about limiting Milwaukee’s 3-point shooters. Once the Bucks get hot from 3, it’s hard to stop them. Giannis will do his thing, drive to the rim, and get ridiculous calls. But the Celtics just have to live with that. Finally, the bench has to play above and beyond expectations. Gordon Hayward has to be his aggressive All-Star self. He’s not really shown that side of his game since the Indiana series, but it could be Gordon’s night on Monday. The Celtics can do all of this in Game 4 and still lose. But if this team can play with the right energy and take Milwaukee out of it early, they’ll be flying back to Milwaukee, with the series tied 2-2.
Adversity has hit the Celtics in many ways this series and a response has yet to come from this underachieving team. Now they have the chance. Down 2-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Greek Freak, the number 1 seed, on their home floor. Will they respond? With Marcus Smart potentially coming back, It’s hard to tell. He gives this team a huge emotional and defensive boost, so it’s hard to say whether this Celtics team can feed off his energy and get a W or struggle yet again and come away with a disappointing result. It will either be a stellar performance or another clunker in Game 4. Whatever they do, they just need to put another W on the board and make this a best of 3 series.
By: Seamus Zarlingo