A Boston Celtics Fan’s Reaction to Yet Another ECF Loss

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Austin Barach

Pain. Just pain. Verbal meme: Will Smith, “Pain.” That’s what it’s like being a Boston Celtics fan right now.

It’s tough. As a sports fan, Sunday’s loss was a reminder of the heartbreak that is inherent in sports. But as someone who cares about the Boston Celtics more than almost anything else in the world, Sunday’s loss was especially tough to swallow.

I didn’t want to believe what my eyes were seeing over the last 3-4 minutes of the game was real. Should I have seen the writing on the wall when we went down 3-1? Sure, of course. But as a Celtics fan I will never be able to be 100% objective about them. I will always think we have a chance, and after Game 5, man, was “Celtics in 7” such a nice thing to dream about.

We’re Not a “Disaster”

First off, I want to distinguish a “disappointment” from a “disaster.” Oftentimes in the NBA, when a favored team loses a critical series, their season will be labeled, lazily, a “disaster.” This Celtics loss was not a disaster.

The Bucks losing to the Heat in five games in the East semis was a borderline disaster. The Clippers melting down and losing to the Nuggets in 7 was a full-blown disaster. But the Celtics were “merely” a disappointment.

Memory Lane

We had such a flawed 1-seeded team in 2017. We were a fake 1-seed. Don’t get me wrong, that team was so lovable. IT, “The King of the Fourth,” “The Little Guy” (Tommy Heinsohn voice), was such a lovable face of the team. We had my guy Avery Bradley, a not-washed Al Horford, Marcus, Crowder, Jerebko, Olynyk, a rookie Jaylen, Rozier, and a bigtime performance in the first-round series against the Bulls from Gerald Green. But we deserved to get pummeled by LeBron in the ECF. We didn’t stand a chance.

In 2018, we once again had a lovable team. Obviously IT and AB weren’t Boston Celtics anymore, and newly-acquired Kyrie and Hayward had injuries that prevented them from playing in the playoffs, so suddenly we were rooting for this ragtag team led by Terry Rozier, now “Scary Terry,” a rookie Jayson Tatum, a not-washed Al Horford, Jaylen, Marcus, and Mook Morris. We got good minutes out of Aron Baynes and even got to see some Shane Larkin action. That playoff ride was fun and cumulated in a Game 7 at the Garden that LeBron and the Cavs took control over late. We were a few minutes away from the NBA Finals…with that roster!

As I’ve stated before, this was the best team the Boston Celtics have had since at least 2012. But in 2012, I was in 3rd grade and didn’t really follow the NBA, so this team offered me more hope and upside than any previous Celtics team in my fandom. And that’s what makes this so disappointing; on paper, we had a better team than Miami.

The Heat Just Played Better

Even though Dragic is really good, Kemba was supposed to be better than him. He wasn’t. Even though the Celtics should have won at least one of Game 1 or Game 2, they didn’t; they blew both games. And even though Jayson Tatum was very good and was better than Jimmy Butler and put up stats that have rarely been seen before at his age, Bam Adebayo was the best player in the series. He just was.

Bam was ubiquitous on defense and was the rock for the Heat offensively, catching lobs, dunking on the roll, taking Celtics bigs off the dribble, and ultimately forcing double teams and bad rotations that led to open looks for the Heat.

Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports

The Blame Game

It’s easy to play the blame game. Man, it’s so easy. “Fire Brad.” “Trade Kemba.” “Trade Hayward.” “Jayson needed to look more engaged.” “Marcus took some terrible shots.” Sigh. Was Brad outcoached by Spoelstra? Yes. Did Kemba play relatively poorly? Yes. When Hayward got subbed back in for Grant toward the end of Game 6, did it look like he didn’t even want to touch the ball? Yes. Did Jayson go into stretches where he settled for bad shots? Yes. And did Marcus take step back threes and/or flat-footed threes? The answer, once again, is yes.

But I can say all that while also defending the Boston Celtics. (Again, as a diehard fan, I’ve gotten good at defending the Celtics.) The Brad thing is frustrating because at times it seems like he’s fine with letting the opposing coach have his way and then when asked about what’s going wrong he’ll just say something like “We just didn’t play good basketball.” C’mon, Brad.

I thought not playing Kanter in Game 4 was a massive mistake on his part. The Heat decided not to play Olynyk, so it made no sense to me why he didn’t get Kanter some minutes to throw a different look at them. Of course, he does play Kanter in Game 5 and suddenly the Celtics are flipping the momentum on the Heat. Huh, funny how that works. However, at the end of the day, it pisses me off when Celtics fans want Brad to be fired because I keep coming back to the fact that he’s better than most coaches in the NBA. Ok, cool, fire him…but are we really going to get someone better? Most likely not.

Kemba

The Kemba thing is tough. He’s such a chemistry upgrade over Kyrie, yet he really caved in many playoff games. I want to chalk it up to a lack of previous playoff experience, but the fact that he’s so small will be an issue should the Celtics advance far into the postseason with him in the upcoming seasons.

Hayward

Gordon Hayward is a guy who I’ve felt like I’ve needed to defend ever since he came back from the terrible ankle injury, and truth be told, he had quite a solid 2019-2020 regular season. Fans are and were quick to slander him in this Heat series, however. I would imagine it’s not that easy to immediately get back to midseason form when your team is down 0-2 in the ECF and can’t figure out how to beat a zone; meanwhile, your wife is giving birth to your kid 1,200 miles away.

Tatum

Tatum did settle for some bad shots in this series, but more so in the Toronto series. Guess what, though? You know who demanded the ball and made things happen and averaged a 26-10-6 in the ECF at just 22 years of age? Jayson Tatum. So calm down to all the Celtics fans who want to blame Jayson. Get some perspective.

Smart

As for Marcus, he does get somewhat of a pass for shot selection because of how hard he plays and his knack for making winning plays. It’s unfortunate that the Bam block on Tatum in Game 1 will overshadow Smart’s block on Norman Powell in the closing minutes of Game 7.

Take a Deep Breath, People

Lastly, on the Boston Celtics as the team falling just short of the NBA Finals yet again, I hate the take that some “fans” have, which is the “making the conference finals means nothing if we can’t ever reach the Finals. I’d rather we just get eliminated sooner.” take. Fuck those “fans.” So winning basketball games and series are somehow not good? You’d rather watch the Celtics lose? Do you want to see them play less? I’m sorry, but would you rather root for the Knicks or something? Then you’d get to root for a losing organization. C’mon. Get out of here with that talk.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We’ll Be Fine

The Celtics will be bringing back almost every member of the roster for next season, most likely. It would be tremendous if Ainge could somehow find room for a tough veteran presence/glue guy, as well as a perimeter bench scorer. But those could be tall tasks given that Ainge is already over the salary cap. Plus, next season’s cap is still to be determined based on the lost revenue with no fans in arenas.

I’m grounded in reality enough with this team to know that even if the Boston Celtics came back to beat the Heat, LeBron and the Lakers would’ve beat us in six or seven games. But as a fan, having your team in the NBA Finals AND getting to root against LeBron would’ve been a lot of fun. It’s a bummer, but it could be worse.

Just ask a Clippers fan.

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