The Boston Celtics are going to Celtic from time to time. The problem has reared its ugly head for a third consecutive series, and there appears to be no stopping it. After about 77 minutes of well-played basketball, they were due for a head-scratcher. It arrived in the second half of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in their 123-116 loss to the Miami Heat at home — the Celtics’ fourth loss at TD Garden in these playoffs.
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Kyle Lowry’s 13 points and three 3-pointers in the second quarter most certainly helped prevent the Celtics from running out to a humongous lead to end the first half. In the third quarter, the Heat then went laying out on South Beach with no umbrella hot from the field, scoring 46 points on 65.4 percent shooting from the field.
Still, the Heat were able to hold onto that double-digit lead for a total of 25 seconds of game time. Their shooting went cold in the fourth quarter and the home team had every opportunity to deliver a gut-punching Game 1 loss to the visitors. The Celtics shot 53.3 percent from the field in the fourth quarter while the Heat shot 38.9. However, the Heat only committed two turnovers in the final period, while the Celtics gave the ball up six times.
Kevin Harlan can compare Jimmy Butler to Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey all he wants, but Butler playing shutdown corner was not the source of the Celtics’ problems. His interceptions on consecutive passes were the result of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford finding themselves in desperate situations on the floor and flinging wild passes. That is how the Heat went nearly three minutes without scoring late in the fourth quarter with only a five-point lead and still won the game.
We’ve seen this before from Boston
The Celtics lost Game 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers in a game that they had every opportunity to win. Yes, James Harden hit one of the biggest shots of his career but the Celtics turned the ball over four times in that fourth quarter. In Game 4 on the road, the Celtics were up by five points with less than two minutes remaining in the final period. Their failure to secure defensive rebounds helped lead to an overtime loss in that game.
Even against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, the Celtics blew an opportunity to close out that series at home in five games. Trae Young got hot and went for 16 points in the fourth quarter. That was accompanied by five Celtics turnovers in a 119-117 Hawks’ victory.
Sloppy fourth-quarter play has forced the Celtics into situations that should not befall championship teams. Even last postseason — after sweeping Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round — the Celtics dropped a lot of games at home.
This season, with an influx of talent accompanied by a franchise-shaking head coaching change, the Celtics won six more regular-season games than they did last season. They don’t even have to play the No. 1 seed these playoffs, and yet here they are still holding onto wins like a greased pig.
The Celtics were a championship favorite at the start of this season. They will still probably fend off the eighth-seeded Heat, but at this point, their lingering inconsistency has C’s primed for a second-consecutive NBA Finals defeat.
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