The Boston Celtics’ Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat is less than four hours ago. While the pain is still fresh, here are a few concluding thoughts on the playoffs and the Celtics’ future.
1) The Celtics Big Three just don’t have the athleticism anymore.
Game 2: game tied 80-80 with 7:09 left in the game. Heat out-score Celtics 22-11 down the stretch.
Game 3: game tied 86-86 after four quarters. Heat out-score Celtics 12-4 in overtime.
Game 4: game tied 87-87 with 2:57 left in the game. Heat out-score Celtics 10-0 to close out game and series.
Three of the Celtics’ four losses happened because the Celtics couldn’t maintain through the end of the game. Some will blame that on heart or another intangible – convenient, since it’s so hard to measure. Others will blame it on mental lapses and mention the 13 turnovers and steals the Heat forced from the fourth quarter on in those three games.
But really, the Celtics were just tired. It takes such intensity, such effort to contain scorers like Dwyane Wade (30.2 points per game) and LeBron James (28 points per game). It takes all the energy out of you. And when you’re old and slow like the Celtics (especially Kevin Garnett), there comes a point when you simply don’t have the legs left to hang with younger, faster, more athletic teams. If you don’t have a big enough lead or a crowd to inspire you, at that point you collapse. It happened over and over last season. That it didn’t this year is more a miracle than anything else.
2) Celtics Need a Center
If Doc Rivers is serious about giving the Big Three one more year of his life, Danny Ainge needs to give him a center, and a good one. No more of this “we’ll sign another old guy and see what he gives us” crap. No more rolling the dice. The Celtics need a proven commodity.
Garnett has never been a great one-on-one defender. He is a “help” defender, best when working with another defender to double-team a player, either forcing a bad pass he can steal or a shot he can block. That’s what made Garnett and Kendrick Perkins good together: they could swarm.
The problem with Perkins (which wouldn’t have saved this Celtics squad) was that a) he couldn’t rebound, and b) he caught, dribbled and then shot, which killed his offense. The Celtics need a fourth scoring option for when the Big Three – who Wade and James together out-scored, 58.2 to 50.4 points per game – run out of gas.
In every Celtics losses, at one point Garnett stopped playing the post and lost the will to fight for rebounds. About the same time, Paul Pierce stopped driving through the lanes, which made his step-back jumper easier to predict and defend. And while all this was going on, even the ageless Ray Allen stopped his nonstop sprint around the floor while trying to get open. Which is fine, because by that point the Heat figured out Allen was the go-to shooter, and just started swarming him on every pass.
With the Big Three all likely to fade at about the same time (given a tough enough opponent to push them), the Celtics need a fourth scoring option. Rajon Rondo, for all his heart, just isn’t that guy.
3) This bench is awful!
Yes, the Celtics bench out-scored the Heat 123-95 in the series. But over 40 percent of the Celtics bench points came from Delonte West, who scored in double figures in all five games. Great for him, he probably cemented his role as Rondo’s backup next year. But the rest of the Celtics bench gave them nothing. The only other player to score in double-figures even once was Jeff Green.
The Celtics won a championship in 2008 because they had sharpshooters Eddie House and James Posey on the bench. They didn’t play great defense, but they knocked down shots when the Big Three weren’t on the court.
I look at this Celtics bench, and I don’t see that shooter anywhere. Green, who committed at least one turnover in each game, is still a liability on the court. Glen Davis averaged four points a game on 31.8 percent shooting. Nenad Krstic (who has the court-sense to be a good rebounder but not the hands) scored eight in Game Five, and that’s it.
Moving forward, the Celtics need a real bench. They need shooters and stronger defenders. West is the best all-around player on the team (Green might be more talented, but he hasn’t shown it consistently yet), and Davis can draw charges and occasionally sneak a rebound. That’s all your bench strength, and brother, that ain’t enough.
4) The Celtics early season victories over the Heat were the flukes, not this series.
Yes, the Celtics won the season series 3-1. But that just means the Celtics peaked too early and the Heat peaked later. The Heat’s Big Three had never played together before. They had no idea how to make it work. At first, they played .500 basketball. Then they went through a phase where Wade and James played better separately than together. Now, they recognize that they are two of the strongest, most athletic players on the field. They don’t have play with perfect rhythm: they can just wear other teams down.
By the end of the playoff series, Wade and James were abusing Celtics defenders. They would barrel uncontested to the rim for dunks, swat away fouls and sink their shots anyway, or just shoot over Celtics from deep. It might not be the most fluid or dynamic offense you’ve ever seen. It’s less boxing, more ultimate fighting. Don’t work the other team into a corner, just punch them til they hit the deck. Then keep punching. All the way to a championship.