By MyFM's Jake Archer - Okay, enough wallowing you miserable, Scary Terry t-shirt wearing, LeBron James hating, basketball fan. It's been almost four days, so it's time to address a few things and move on to the Boston Celtics offseason and look ahead a bit. Have a seat, and let's talk it out...
Sunday night sucked more than I thought it would. Going into the playoffs without our two best players, I was content to just get out of the first round. This Celtics team was amazing though, and they believed in themselves the whole way when so many didn't. They battled through a grueling series with the Milwaukee Bucks, took down the arrogant and overrated Sixers and then went toe-to-toe with LeBron James until the last six minutes of Game 7. It's really tough to be mad at that considering the group you had out there and how they are mostly young or inexperienced.
Still, the Celtics really should have won Game 7. They lost it more than LeBron won it and as I've sat and digested the whole thing, that has become even more clear. Heck, even Danny Ainge used the words "should have won" rather than "could have won" in talking to the media the next day. I think it really came down to a few things in the end and trust me, I feel bad criticizing a team that gave us such a fun year and fun postseason run.
First, I think the lack of youth and experience really caught up to them in the biggest moment of all. That's not a knock because that happens to a lot of teams like this and they go on and learn from the situation. I believe that's going to be the case here as well. Failure will end up pushing these guys even more and the experience they did get was invaluable. I just think in this type of situation, a guy like Jayson Tatum didn't know it was time for him to demand the ball and take over. Also, a guy like Jaylen Brown was exactly sure what needed to be done either and I think that goes for a lot of the group. Guys figure things out over time and then by the time they are in their third or fourth real BATTLE, they'll say "Hey, I've got this." Every great player has to take their lumps and find out what winning takes. They will.
I also believe that Brad Stevens didn't have his greatest game. I know this sounds like a hot take or dumb criticism of a great coach but it's not. Anyone fully blaming Brad or saying he's overrated can get right out of here. Stevens is the best coach in the NBA and one of the best in sports, he just simply did not have a good enough night. It happens, as we've seen, to greats like Bill Belichick. Stevens is not immune to messing up and I'm sure he'd be the first one to tell you that he has a lot to learn as well. When these young players aren't figuring things out, he's gotta be the one to guide them. He has to slow that game down late and use those two timeouts he kept in his pocket. I'd say he also should have encouraged them to stop shooting jumpers and take the ball to the hole. When you are in the bonus with seven minutes left in the third quarter and LeBron has four fouls on him, you've got to attack! I'm not saying I'm smarter than Stevens (not even one iota) but it just wasn't his best performance.
The last two factors that played in are pretty obvious but I'll state them anyway. The team just had a rough night shooting (to say the least). I think the combination of a bad night shooting plus the inexperience, made the below average performance more of a historically bad performance. Some nights it just isn't going to fall for you though, and that's how the game goes. I don't think this is anything that will carry over in the playoffs at all. My last reason why the Celtics lost coincides with why this won't happen again and that is that they needed Kyrie. Irving, even more than Hayward, would have made that a win for the C's. When the team hit a scoreless drought and they didn't know who to go to (because Tatum hasn't realized his alpha status yet and they are an equal opportunity offense), Kyrie would have been the guy to get the ball and put it in the hoop. That's painfully obvious, but it just needed to be said.
The great thing is that next year will be much different. All of these young guys will be a year older and the injured stars will be back. More injuries could happen (God forbid) but barring that, the team will be LOADED. Obviously, we don't know what's going to happen this offseason, but we do know however things shake out, the Celtics will be one of the top two or three squads. They won't be an underdog anymore, they'll be a juggernaut. Some people are actually worried about having too much talent on the roster, which is silly. Golden State makes it work with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green sharing a ball. I think the C's can figure out an Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward (who just had the screws and plate removed from his fibula and will resume hooping soon), Horford lineup with Rozier as the sixth man.
Will the roster stay intact though? I know I'm okay with Danny Ainge kind of standing pat and making small upgrades, but you never know what that wizard has got up his sleeve. My prediction is that he attempts (KEY WORD IS ATTEMPTS) to do something wild and then ultimately comes back with largely the same group. I honestly think he's going to go big game hunting and he'll have talks for names like Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis. I wouldn't doubt that he also has talks about moving up in the draft (the rumor is to get Mo Bamba, who will probably be a lottery pick). In these cases, I can see him dangling Rozier, Brown, Hayward or Horford. I don't think he'll even entertain trading Kyrie and he'd be a madman to trade Tatum. We'll see, I just hope you didn't go buy too many Celtics jerseys or t-shirts this year because you could easily end up seeing the player you bought traded. Don't put anything past Trader Danny.
There's also just the factor of keeping our own players like restricted free-agent Marcus Smart for instance. Smart has said he wants to stay in Boston but believes he's worth a lot more than he probably is. Luckily, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck has expressed that money won't break up the Celtics. He loves the team and is willing to spend to win. That's what you love to hear from the owner of your favorite team.
Of course, there is a real big fish out there on the market this offseason and he's the type that shifts the balance of power. Will Ainge make a call to LeBron for a free agent visit? I bet he does, but I doubt the visit actually happens or we ever hear about it. I really would not like that to happen though, because I'm committed to the culture that Boston has built up with the group they have now. LeBron would ruin that, so no thank you!
Looking at LeBron does have an impact on the Celtics though, regardless of if Ainge calls him up. James is the best player in the game and his possible move from Cleveland will shake everything up. Personally, I'm hoping that he goes to Houston to try to battle Golden State out West with his buddy Chris Paul. It makes sense, and it makes the East a lot easier for the C's. We can't have the guy going to Philly to play with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and we can't have him stay in Cleveland and get upgrades.
Anyway, in the end you can't be mad that the Celtics lost. You can be disappointed, and mad that LeBron won and is going back to the Finals to get spanked by the Warriors but that's about it. Would it have been fun to see the young C's get a taste of the Finals? Yea, for a minute but they would have lost. So let's turn our focus to the bright future ahead. Enjoy the offseason!
*One more factor I want to add in as a reason for the Celtics loss...officiating. Don't get mad at me, but it did play a part in this series getting to seven games. It didn't decide the outcome or anything and it's a weak excuse to make but some calls were clearly going LeBron's way to make the series entertaining for the NBA. There is no planet where Marcus Morris should be called for a foul while shooting a 3-pointer, just none.
**Hey, at least we aren't Philly right now, right? They've got their GM using burner Twitter accounts to give away team strategy and criticize his own players. Yikes!