Let’s start off with the good.
The Celtics, really, met or surpassed what most expected this season. If you asked me, they met expectations.
Coming into the season, the Celtics looked to have a shot to be the best team in the East.
The Raptors were expected to regress and the Bucks still had Giannis, the 76ers had a very formidable starting 5, and the Celtics had a similar team as last year with Hayward.
The Celtics ended up as the 3 seed. That felt about right, didn’t it?
The Celtics went to the conference finals and lost, which also felt right. They beat some very good teams along the way as well.
I’m happy with how this team performed and always felt they were a year away from true contention with the two LA teams.
Only one ended up being a juggernaut, but still.
The end coming in the Eastern Conference Finals was not surprising, but the opponent was.
Bam, Butler, Herro, and Robinson made all the right plays at the right time.
Dragic twisted and spun his way to crucial buckets, as you’d expect a wily veteran to do.
When a basket was needed desperately in the 4th, Jimmy Buckets came through in a way the Celtics could not match.
Duncan Robinson made every 3, and Herro made tough jumpers and floaters throughout the series.
Bam led his team in many statistical categories and was the engine to make the team go.
This Heat team is very good and very likable, but not all that talented.
And yet, they found a way. Props to the Heat!
Lakers in 5, by the way.
But let’s talks about game 6. To me, this is the clearest example of where the glaring hole lies for this team.
Kemba Couldn’t Do It
Kemba Walker has been through almost everything in his basketball career. He led UConn to a special season, winning it all.
Kemba made every big shot they needed. Walker was the top banana on some moribund Bobcats squads. He has seen almost everything.
What he had not seen, and what we had not seen him in, is the combination of intensity of the NCAA tournament and the talent of the NBA.
The PG is just too small to be the guy at the end of these games. We know he isn’t scared and can make the play, but he couldn’t find it in this series.
I have always loved Kemba and I will give him the benefit of the doubt with this one. It’s not that he didn’t want to make the big play or was shook, he literally could not.
That’s okay, but without him as the guy, the Celtics did not seem to have the right option. Which leads me to the man they turned too…
Tatum is Not There Yet Mentally
Time and time again he opened slowly.
Time and time again he settled for jump shots to get going.
When the game got tight, Tatum settled for threes and was passive.
Why? The only explanation I have is lack of mental toughness.
Tatum has…not bee listening to the best leaders for advice…
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) September 28, 2020
Kyrie has hit THE shot, but he is not a good leader.
Tatum also does not seem to have that killer instinct yet. He feeds off rhythm in the game but can’t create his own.
Tatum got to the basket and made plays in the paint almost at will, but never went there unless he was feeling good. This is the opposite of conventional basketball wisdom.
His mentor, Kobe, could always find his rhythm when it mattered. Maybe Tatum will come to that Mamba mentality, but he does not have the killer in him yet.
This is a scary prospect when a player is supposed to be the alpha.
Brad Stevens Got Out Coached
Brad Stevens is a brilliant X’s and O’s coach.
By all accounts, the man is a basketball genius.
That being said, there has always been some grumblings about his apparent lack of energy.
The lack of energy became a detriment as game 6 came to a head.
With two time outs and momentum shifting, the former Butler coach stood and watched. He did not call a time out to get a young team to relax and do their jobs.
Brad’s deer in the headlight look reminded me way too much of Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan, and the now broken Falcons franchise in the Super Bowl a few years ago.
There was no yelling at players to calm down even or running a good play for an easy bucket to settle things down.
Stevens just stood there, stoic, watching his team jack up wild shots as the game dripped away.
It was pathetic, in the true definition of the term. Some fire needs to be lit under him, because sometimes X’s and O’s are not enough.
Jaylen Brown Did Not Crumble
The only person on the court who did not lose his mind (including Stevens), was Brown.
Marcus went full Marcus, which is a good thing if others are composed, but since nobody was it was not helpful.
The other players jacked up shots and broke down defensively.
The only player who quietly made a few plays and did not seem to lose his cool was Jaylen.
Jaylen, as we can tell from his exploits off the court, is a natural leader. Jaylen is also a quiet, Tim Duncan type leader (on the court).
It will take time or a more vocal presence to have players turn to him.
Hopefully next season this will be recognized and he can infuse his brilliant mind, calm demeanor, and valuable perspective into the rest of the team.
Tatum may be more skilled, Brad may be the coach, and Kemba may have been brought in to be the leader; but Jaylen is the guy this team needs.
Here is to hoping Brad, Danny, and the organization recognize their leadership problem, and empower the young player so he can reach his full potential and the Celtics can reach theirs.
Also, for the love of God can we stop asking Kyrie for advice?
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-Brent Buckley (@bigbucksbuckley on twitter)