By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Up by six points with nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and with momentum on their side, the Celtics seemed poised to force a winner-take-all Game 7 against the Heat. But then came another late-game collapse, with Miami more than doubling the C’s up for the remainder of the night (35-17) on their way to an East-clinching 125-113 win over Boston.
“I think we got some really good looks [but] they didn’t drop,” Kemba Walker said. “Whenever we did miss, those guys brought it down with great pace and made the plays that were necessary. That was the big thing: They made the plays. We didn’t. ”
It was a downright brutal finish to the C’s season, too, with the Celtics at one point allowing Miami to score on 10 straight possessions, and with the Heat led by a takeover effort from center Bam Adebayo.
“Adebayo deciding he’s just going to drive the ball put us in a real bind with the shooters around him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the loss. “And their physicality is something that I’m not sure that we probably talked about it enough. They’re strong, they’re physical, they’re tough and, him in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn’t score, his presence was so impactful and it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him.”
Adebayo stuffed the stat sheet, too, with a game-high 32 points on 11-for-15 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and five assists.
“I just had to realign myself and who I really want to become,” the 23-year-old Adebayo said. “Showed that tonight. You know, you said you wanted to see me be a scorer in the fourth, well, there you go.”
Jaylen Brown was undoubtedly the C’s best player in this one, scoring 26 points behind a 10-for-17 evening. Brown also collected eight boards, dished out four assists, and came away with three steals.
But the rest of Boston’s best struggled.
The Green’s starting backcourt of Walker and Marcus Smart combined for 40 points by the night’s end, but made just eight of their 23 second-half field goal attempts. The duo also shot just 30.4 percent from deep in Game 6, missing 16 of their 23 tries from long range. Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, closed out his 2020 postseason run with a 24 points on a 9-for-26 performance. And then there was Gordon Hayward, who added just 12 points in 32 minutes off the C’s bench, and looked to be moving at half-speed against some of the Heat’s scorers.
What had to be most frustrating for the Celtics, however, was their lack of clutch scoring throughout this series. It was a constant problem from start to finish, really, and it ended with the Heat holding a plus-28 scoring differential in clutch situations (final five minutes of play, and with the score within five points), which is the third-highest differential in any series over the last 23 seasons, according to ESPN.
So now it’s back to the drawing board for the Celtics, who have now been to the East Finals in three of the last four years but failed to advance out of the third round in all three tries. The Celtics have advanced to this point with three very different-looking rosters, and their core is still ridiculously young and with a bright future, but the fact is that it’s not going to get any easier; Giannis and the Milwaukee will be back next year, same for the Raptors and Heat you’d imagine, and the Nets are expected to finally have their one-two of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in effect (and they may even add to it).
It’s a lost opportunity no matter how you slice it, and will require some soul-searching to figure out how to take that next step.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to win those games down the stretch,” Walker admitted. “But we got time. We’re sad to be out of here. At some point, we’ll look back on this and just learn. It’s all learning experiences. And we all just have to have big offseasons and be ready to come back whenever we start back up.”