Some final thoughts about the Celtics’ Game 7 loss to the Heat, and where the team goes from here …
▪ When the Celtics acquired Malcolm Brogdon from the Pacers last summer, his durability was the lone concern. But he stayed mostly healthy, embraced his reduced role, and was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. Everything worked out well, until the end.
Brogdon was dealing with a right forearm strain over the last couple of weeks. It’s impossible to know how much it actually impacted him, but it certainly created challenges. After averaging 16 points over the first two games against Miami, he scored just 2 the rest of the series, going 1 for 16 from the field and 0 for 9 from the 3-point line.
Brogdon missed the Celtics’ Game 6 win, and it would have made sense if he sat out Game 7, too. He’d established no rhythm in the series, and Derrick White was thriving in an increased role.
But Brogdon checked in midway through the first quarter with the Celtics holding a 3-point lead, and by the time he left about seven messy minutes later, they trailed by 12. Coach Joe Mazzulla’s loyalty to Brogdon may have been costly.
▪ Mazzulla was hardly perfect this year, but he did lead the Celtics to 57 regular-season wins and got them within one game of a Finals appearance after being thrust into his role with no warning following Ime Udoka’s suspension. Also, he should get some credit for helping the Celtics rally from a 3-0 deficit in the conference finals, even if the predicament should have been avoided in the first place.
Mazzulla deserves a shot to assemble his own coaching staff and spend an entire summer preparing for a season.
▪ Celtics star Jayson Tatum twisted his ankle when he landed on Heat guard Gabe Vincent after taking a jump shot on the game’s first possession. There were times when Tatum looked OK running the court on fast breaks. But his reluctance to attack the rim was telling and detrimental, exacerbated by the fact that he’d struggled from the 3-point line all season. That could not be a less-taxing fallback option.
Tatum was just 11 for 47 (23.4 percent) from beyond the arc in the series. His regular-season 3-point numbers have dipped for three years in a row, to a career-low 35 percent this season. Regaining his long-range rhythm and confidence should be an offseason focus.
▪ While the loss to the Heat was an upset, there were warning signs. Remember, the Celtics needed six games to defeat Atlanta in the first round, losing a potential Game 5 clincher at home when the Hawks were without star guard Dejounte Murray.
Then they had to survive a pair of elimination games against the 76ers, stumbling into that predicament after dropping Game 1 at home when MVP Joel Embiid was sidelined. There were caution flags throughout this run.
▪ Look, as the Celtics were on the verge of becoming the first NBA team in 151 tries to overcome a 3-0 series deficit, the comparisons to the 2004 Red Sox provided a fun and warm story line, but they also were a bit much.
The Yankees and Red Sox had one of the fiercest rivalries in the history of sports, set against the backdrop of nearly 100 years of Red Sox heartbreak. New York also was a powerhouse. The Heat were the No. 8 seed and needed a fourth-quarter comeback in their second play-in game just to reach the playoffs.
▪ The Celtics are out, but there still will be some New England vibes in the NBA Finals, with Boston native Bruce Brown (Nuggets) going up against New Hampshire’s Duncan Robinson (Heat).
▪ How rough was Jaylen Brown’s Game 7, in which he made 8 of 23 shots and committed 8 turnovers and 5 fouls? In the second quarter, he had a 3-point attempt blocked by Robinson. It was Robinson’s first block of the year.
▪ After starting the playoffs by winning a pair of home games against the seventh-seeded Hawks, the Celtics lost six of the next nine games at TD Garden. Their status as one of the league’s top teams and the Garden’s reputation as one of the most intimidating environments for opponents make that seem unfathomable.
Al Horford had an interesting explanation for the Garden missteps.
“I definitely think that, for whatever reason, we just kind of let loose a little bit at times here at home, just thinking that we’ll be fine and we’ll kind of find our way,” he said. “That’s something that we’ll have to look at and make sure that we shift that mind-set of protecting home, kind of being more aggressive, because on the road I feel like there’s that edge that we have.”
▪ Game 7 was a romp, and by night’s end the conference finals MVP award provided the only real intrigue. A panel of nine media members voted on the honor, and Jimmy Butler got the nod over Caleb Martin by the slimmest of margins, 5-4.
It’s hard to quibble with either choice, and there was a wave of support for Martin because of his scorching 60.1 percent shooting and better net rating in the series. But Butler averaged more points, rebounds, assists, and steals while being the focus of the Celtics’ defense and having more defensive responsibilities of his own. He was the proper choice.