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Boston Celtics fans no longer want to hear excuses. They don’t want promises. After an embarrassing home loss to the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, the Celtics remain the favorite to win the NBA championship. That could all change Wednesday.

Should the 76ers leave Boston with two victories in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals, Boston’s once-promising season would be in serious jeopardy. It’s time for the Celtics to put up or shut up. A message needs to be sent to Philadelphia and the rest of the NBA in Game 2.

The Boston Celtics always have explanations but never fix the problem

James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers defends Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics during the second half in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 1, 2023, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.

After coming up short in the 2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, the Boston Celtics couldn’t wait to get back on the court. Celtics star Jayson Tatum admitted he spent a good portion of the summer with a bad taste in his mouth after watching the Warriors celebrate a championship on Boston’s court.

He and others said they were motivated this season, especially after the Celtics went out and addressed their biggest weakness — lack of depth. They went out and traded for veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon, who earned the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year honor. The Celtics have turned into one of the deepest teams in the league.

Boston’s biggest problem now is complacency. For much of the season, they had the best record in the NBA, yet they had some ugly losses to bad teams. The Celtics often played to the level of competition, and it cost them. Such was the case in Game 1 against the Sixers.

With 2023 MVP Joel Embiid sideline for Game 1, the door was wide open for the Celtics, who entered the game as a 10-point favorite. The Sixers promptly slammed it shut with a 119-115 victory. After the game, Celtics center Al Horford pretty much admitted Boston let up, knowing Embiid was out.

“I felt like we started off well offensively, but I don’t think there was a sense of urgency on the defensive end,” Celtics center Al Horford said, per ESPN. “Embiid being out tonight, as much as you want to say it wasn’t a factor, I think it was. We have to be better. We have to understand that we have to be able to play with whatever happens, whatever variables. With our team, I’ve just seen it happen with us for whatever reason.”

The Celtics need to send a message in Game 2

Horford is right, but it’s one thing to take your foot off the gas in a regular-season game against the Houston Rockets. It’s another to do it in the second round of the playoffs. It’s been a pattern for this team, and it’s alarming it continues this late in the postseason. Supposedly, this is a hungry and motivated team. It can’t happen in the conference semifinals.

Tatum constantly saying he needs to be better doesn’t work anymore. Many view him as a top 5-10 player in the league. When it comes to stepping up and taking charge in the playoffs, he’s just not there.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla always seems to have the answers after the game, but his rotations and defensive schemes often raise eyebrows. Why is Grant Williams, a major contributor during last year’s run, hardly seeing the floor? Why was Horford guarding James Harden on Philly’s final possession?

The Celtics need to come out angry in Game 2. A message needs to be sent. Tatum and Jaylen Brown need to step up and come up big down the stretch when the game is on the line. Yes, Tatum finished with 39 points, but he made one field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics need to play like their season is on the line because it is.


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