The Boston Celtics were one game from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. They were nine-point favorites against a banged-up Miami Heat team. Everyone had them facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and why not?
The Celtics have been the better team for much of the series. Two ugly quarters proved costly, but they were still in control, leading 3-2 in the series and ready to play a clinching game in front of their raucous crowd. It was a gimme, right?
The Boston Celtics still haven’t shown they can get over the hump
The Celtics have made their way to the Eastern Conference Finals four of the last six years. Each time, they’ve stalled there. So far, this year has been no different.
Boston blew a golden opportunity Friday night when the Heat played harder, tougher, and better. The Celtics wilted when it counted most. The Heat extended the series with a 111-103 victory.
Nobody expected the Celtics to be in the Eastern Conference Finals in the beginning of the year. They were a mediocre team trying to find an identity under new coach Ime Udoka. Through 50 games the Celtics were 25-25 and just as average as they were the year before when they finished the season 36-36.
They went on a tear in the final 32 games of the season, finishing 26-6. They quickly disposed of the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the playoffs before ousting the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. They entered as favorites against the top-seeded Heat and outplayed them for most of the series.
Most of the series, however, doesn’t cut it. The Heat embarrassed the Celtics in from of the Boston faithful in their do-or-die Game 6. The Celtics didn’t play smart basketball and showed they still can’t get over the hump.
The Celtics overlooked the Heat, and it showed
The Celtics said all the right things before the game. They stressed they couldn’t look past any team in the playoffs, blah, blah, blah.
With so much at stake, the Celtics certainly looked like they already had a trip booked to California for Thursday.
The pregame talk shows all had the Celtics winning. The Vegas lines did, too. The Celtics played like victory was a given. There was no sense of urgency until the fourth quarter when their backs were against the wall. There were foolish passes and ill-advised shots throughout the game.
Sure, they made a late run, but their early hole was too big to climb out of. Had they played like they did in the fourth quarter for all four quarters, that trip to California would be booked.
Instead, they were lackadaisical. They thought they were already in. It’s not the mentality to have, especially for a team that constantly stalls at the Eastern Conference Finals.