Shepard: Celtics’ season ends in disappointment yet again

Brad Stevens Celtics
Photo credit USA Today Images

The Boston Celtics have lost in the conference finals three times in the last four seasons. In 2017 and 2018, they lost to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year, they lost to the Miami Heat. There's just one problem with that.

The Celtics Had More Talent Than The Heat In This Series Only one player in this series made an All-NBA team last season, and that would be Kemba Walker. Only one player from this series was an NBA All-Star starter this season, and that would be Jayson Tatum. It's the Celtics who have the only player that made an All-NBA Defensive first team this season in Marcus Smart. They also have Gordon Hayward coming off the bench who was in near All-Star form when he was selected to the big game in 2017. Speaking of benches, yes, the Heat have a former All-Star and Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala, but he is well past his prime. He averaged less than 5.0 PPG this season.  The Celtics also have Jaylen Brown who averaged over 20.0 PPG this season and can be the Celtics’ second-best player on any given night.  Game 1 The Celtics had the Heat down by 13 points in the opening minutes and also had a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter. The Heat somehow won this game. The Celtics were 156-1 in the shot clock era (last 65 years) when leading by 12 or more points heading into the 4th quarter in the playoffs. That is a 99.3 winning percentage. They are now 156-2 when leading by 12 or more heading into the fourth quarter of a playoff game. This is a game you are not supposed to lose. Game 2 The Celtics had the Heat down by 17 points this time. They averaged 30 points per quarter in the first half. Then the Celtics didn’t show up in the third quarter. They got outscored by 20 points. They averaged 21 points per quarter in the second half. Bam Adebayo scored 15 points in the third quarter, just two points less than what the Celtics had in the quarter as a team. Bam, on the season, averaged less than 16.0 PPG. This isn't exactly James Harden when it comes to scoring. Game 4

They allowed a 20-year-old rookie in Tyler Herro, who averaged less than 14.0 PPG on the season, to score 37 points. He became the youngest player in NBA postseason history to score at least 37 points in a game. Herro wasn’t even the best rookie for the Heat during the regular season. That would be Kendrick Nunn. Herro didn't score more than 20 points in any game in his first two playoff series. Game 6 when everything was on the line Forget the concept of closing out on defense; multiple times the Celtics failed to even put a hand up when a shot was taken. Instead of sliding their feet and staying in front of their man, they would swipe at the ball and ultimately give up easy baskets. There were countless cuts from the Heat with no Celtic willing to play help defense. Coach Brad Stevens has had a lot of success in Boston, which makes it baffling to see a well-coached team lack defensive fundamentals that was continuous throughout the series. Bam Adebayo In Game 6 Bam dropped a career-high 32 points on the Celtics. In his only other postseason run with the Heat, the most points he scored in a game was six. He also had 32 points, 14 boards and five assists in this contest. Only three other players have had those numbers in a conference finals game in the last 20 years. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan. Bam took just 15 shots while Tatum MISSED 17 shots. Despite shooting the ball 11 less times from the field than Tatum, Bam ended up with a game-high 32 points. Bam should never be outscoring Tatum in a close-out game. Speaking of Tatum, at 6'8 and one of the most athletic players in the NBA, he didn't have one game in this series in which he shot over 50 percent from the field. He’s too talented and skilled for that to happen. Andre Iguodala In Game 6 The Celtics allowed Iguodala to score 15 points, the most points he has had in a Miami Heat uniform. He scored just eight points in the previous five games in this series. Kemba Walker Kemba scored 118 points for the series; Tyler Herro scored 115 points for the series. Kemba's contract this season was worth $32.7 million. Herro made $3.6 million – just over one-tenth of what Kemba made. By the way, Herro had more assists than Kemba in this series. Kemba shot 43 percent from the floor, while Herro shot 51 percent from the floor. Kemba is the same player that was Third Team All-NBA last season and he got out played by a 20-year-old rookie making about 10 percent of what he made this season. The dreaded fourth quarter for the Celtics in Game 6 Tatum, the Celtics’ best player, did not score a single point in the last 5:40 of this game. In the last nine minutes of the game, Jaylen Brown had one made basket. Bam had as many made baskets in the fourth quarter as Tatum and Kemba combined. Herro, the 20-year-old rookie, also had as many baskets made in the fourth quarter as Kemba and Tatum combined. This can’t keep happening for the Celtics The Boston Celtics need to take a long look at themselves in the mirror. In the 2017 postseason, despite being the No. 1 seed, they lost every single home game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Two of those home losses were by at least 33 points. In the 2018 conference finals, they had a Cleveland Cavaliers team on the ropes at home in Game 7 and gave that game away. In the 2019 postseason, after winning Game 1 on the road versus the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals, they lost four straight. 

In this series, the Celtics gave two games away, and in the other two losses, they allowed good Heat players to look like all-time great players. There is a problem in Boston. The results are falling short of the talent, and this problem doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. The Celtics should be playing in the NBA Finals, not watching from home. 

CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.