“The Celtics’ Biggest Playoff Hurdle: Self-Inflicted Wounds”

“The Celtics’ Biggest Playoff Hurdle: Self-Inflicted Wounds”

Celtics stars Jayson Tatum (left) and Jaylen Brown

Getty Celtics stars Jayson Tatum (left) and Jaylen Brown

There has clearly been work to do and things to accomplish on the Celtics‘ 82-game run-up to The Stuff That Counts.

The Celtics wanted — and achieved — the best record in the league and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. With three games left, they have managed to traverse the season with minimal physical harm. They deftly stirred two new starters into the operation and created an historically good offense.

But they have had the goods before and still not reached their desired destination. If their followers are still harboring nagging questions about a 62-win team, well, they’ve kind of brung it on themselves with late-game and late-series shrinkage the last few years. The opponents have been tough, but there has been far too much self-immolation on the part of the Shamrocks.

So what it really comes down to is this:

The Celtics have spent 25 weeks trying to build better habits so they avoid playing isolation ball when push comes to crunch in the postseason.

That’s really it, and people in and around the operation generally shrug and nod in agreement when it’s present in that stark manner.

Celtics' Biggest NBA Playoff Obstacle: 'They Hurt Themselves' - Heavy.com

Celtics’ Recent History Has Been Disappointing

The C’s are better and more focused defensively this year and certainly talented enough to win the 2024 NBA championship. But their history has shown us they possess, as well, the ability to mess it up royally.

“The things they do to themselves can be more damaging than what we’re trying to do to them,” one coach who has been on the beneficiary end of the equation in the past told Heavy Sports. “They’re really hard to guard when they space the floor and move the ball and get everyone involved — and they’ve been a lot better at that this year, more consistent. But they can hurt themselves at times, too.”

It’s not too much of an oversimplification to say the Celts knocked themselves out of the playoffs in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022 and 2023 by dissolving their offense into a series of quick shots and one-on-one drives that quickly become one-on-two and one-on-three and a turnover or an awkward attempt at the hoop.

This is a theme we’ve been visiting here for years. People like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can get iso-centric, not because they’re bad basketball people or anything like that. They recognize their own skill level and look to take responsibility and make a play.

“But that takes them out of their offense, and they’re offense is really good,” said the aforementioned coach.

As noted, we’ve seen less of it this season, perhaps partly because the Celtics have been regularly blowing the doors off opponents. But, in particular, the losses in Cleveland and Atlanta have given their fans flashbacks of multi-dribble misery from past springs.

Basketball, NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics wenden "Sweep" gegen Miami Heat ab  | sportschau.de

Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown Should Dominate — as Finishers

And to reiterate from previous columns on the subject, the belief here is that the ball should be in the hands of Messrs. Tatum and Brown as much as possible… as finishers. Running them off picks and getting them the rock on a spaced-out floor makes their life less stressful. And even if the defense reacts properly, the ensuing passes to Kristaps Porzingis, Jrue Holiday, Derrick White and others can lead to easy buckets.

It’s not like you haven’t been seeing that almost all year. But will it be seen when it truly matters?

Another opposing coach believes it will.

“I really think it’s going to be different for them this year,” he told Heavy. “You’re not going to see Tatum standing there with the ball up top so much. I think it’s going to be Holiday and Derrick White. They’re going to start the offense more.

“I think Brown and Tatum are ready to trust their guys. What the hell, they should be. This is the best team they’ve had since they won it.”

And, if you recall, that 2008 Celtic squad was, according to Paul Pierce, able to hang a banner because of where he, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were on their NBA path. They’d already accomplished the individual stuff.

Asked if that trio could have won it in their mid-20s instead of their 30-something selves, Pierce said, “Nah… Well, maybe, but it would have been a lot harder.”

Soon we will find out if the current Celtics have used the reps from 82 games to build proper reflexes — if their default position will be to lean on each other and make it easier.


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