If you’re disappointed, you should be. The Celtics had a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals and led by five points with 7:32 in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when things unraveled at the speed of light. From that point forward, over the span of slightly more than two games, the Celtics were outscored by 38 points and never really recovered.
As far as fractures go, it was a fast break.
What happens next? Good question. Maybe, as Draymond Green told Celtics players after Game 6 last night. “Y’all will be back.” That certainly seems logical. The Celtics are still young and still improving – “As you can see, there’s still a lot of growing for all of us,” said veteran Al Horford – though head coach Ime Udoka generally believes what many of you do.
They missed a fabulous opportunity.
“Don’t feel like we didn’t have enough,” Udoka said. “Just felt like we played probably our worst series of these playoffs. If we play up to the standard of Milwaukee or the Miami series, it’s obviously a different ballgame, especially in Game 4 and 5 when we struggled in the fourth quarter.”
Of course, the Celtics didn’t. As such, there is much soul-searching and examination to do now – and during an especially short off-season – in the wake of a heartbreaking defeat. The playoffs, in every sport, are pass-fail. And only one team ultimately gets by.
The Finals, by the numbers:
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 16: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics reacts against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum’s free-throw percentage in the final three games. That’s right, free-throw percentage. Tatum’s substandard play was obviously one of the biggest reasons – if not the biggest – for the Celtics’ demise, particularly when it came to taking care of the basketball. He had 15 turnovers in the final three games. And oh, he never made it to the line at all in Game 6.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 10: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics gains control of the ball after a turnover by Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Average points scored by the Celtics in their four series losses – an average of 92.2 points per game that was dreadfully insufficient. When Golden State turned up the defensive pressure, the Celtics simply couldn’t handle it. Again, the turnovers were the primarily culprit. In the four losses, the Celtics turned the ball over a whopping 73 times, an average 18.2 per contest. They had 22 turnovers in decisive Game 6, a number so huge it seems unfathomable.
Jun 16, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III (44) defends a shot from Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the second quarter of game six in the 2022 NBA Finals at the TD Garden. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
The plus-minus of Celtics’ center Robert Williams, the only Boston regular to finish above water in the final five games of the series. Williams seemed to get better – and healthier – as the series went along, averaging nine points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal over the final three games while averaging just over 30 minutes a night. His continued improvement is one of the biggest hopes for the future.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 16: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics is defended by Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Golden State Warriors during the first quarter in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Points averaged by Jaylen Brown during The Finals, when he was generally Boston’s best player. Yes, Brown, too, was a turnover machine, his 23.5 points per game were second-best in the series to only Stephen Curry. Was he perfect? No. But of Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart, Brown seemed the most capable of making a big shot. And for as many bad decisions as he made – and didn’t they all? – he did not seem overwhelmed by the moment.