Boston Celtics fans woke up Tuesday morning still stunned that their team lost by 19 points to the Miami Heat in TD Garden on Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Any hopes of back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals were ended by Caleb Martin. And the dream of being the first team to ever come back from down 3-0 turned into a nightmare on the first play of the game when Jayson Tatum turned his ankle.
“See, Boston Garden. Brothas walk into that place and you can feel it like a cold wind. You find yourself running down the court tripping over thin air. Go to dribble, ball don’t bounce. Just sticks there, like a mud puddle. No logical explanation to it, either.” — Norm Nixon (played by his son DeVaughn Nixon) in Episode 7 “Invisible Man” of HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
That isn’t the case anymore. Boston’s mystique has evaporated.
And while it’s understandable why everyone in Boston is hurting today. The outcome of Monday’s night game shouldn’t have been a shock, given how bad this core group has been when it comes to closing out games on their parquet floor.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
The last time the Celtics had a Game 7 on their home floor in the Eastern Conference Finals was in 2018. And like Monday night, they lost. LeBron James played every second of that game — without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — and finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists.
“It was pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys, and an absolute pleasure and privilege to be around them every day,” said the Celtics’ former head coach, and current president, Brad Stevens after the game. “We obviously have a good thing going.” Little did he know that more postseason heartbreaks were on the way.
In last year’s NBA Finals, the Celtics stunned the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 to take an early series lead. However, the most memorable game of that series took place in — you guessed it — Boston. With a 2-1 series lead and a chance to put the dagger in the Warriors, the Celtics melted at home in Game 4 when Steph Curry played the best game of his life — scoring 43 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to give the Warriors a 107-97 win, tying the series at 2-2. Boston never won another game.
“We had to do it the difficult way. We have to do it again. It could have been an easier road, obviously, if you get the win tonight. But we’re 2-2 now. We know we can do it. We’ve done it before,” said former Celtics coach Ime Udoka after the game. He lied.
This postseason run was full of hints that the Celtics might have better luck closing out a series on the road than at home. In the first round, Boston gave an Atlanta Hawks team that’s used to pulling off postseason upsets even more confidence after Trae Young hit a game-winning deep three-pointer to win Game 5 at TD Garden, pushing the series to a sixth game in Atlanta that should have ended in five in Boston. In the next round, the Celtics dropped Game 1 to Philadelphia thanks to James Harden, and would later lose Game 5 at home giving the Sixers a 3-2 series lead. And finally, there was this last series. One in which the Celtics lost three games in Boston.
“We failed. I failed and we let the whole city down,” said Jaylen Brown, who was a pathetic 8-for-23 from the field with eight turnovers. “In spite of whatever circumstance we had this year we rose to the occasion. We got to this point and we came up short.”
According to Axios Sports, entering the 2016 NBA Finals, home teams were 101-24 in Game 7s. Since then, they’ve been 8-11. Also, seven times this postseason the lower-seeded team won a series, which is the most since 1983.
It’s a sign that matchups and health mean more than seeding. So, if you hate “load management” and think stars should play every game, there’s a strong possibility that you’re probably going to hate the new NBA. Since “ring culture” has made it so that stars are only judged by how many championships they’ve won, the regular season has become a warm-up for the playoffs. But remember, the fans and many in “the media” made it this way.
But, back to the matter at hand. Which is that the Celtics aren’t good in Boston. TD Garden isn’t “The Garden,” and Larry Bird isn’t walking through that door. Building your entire home-court advantage on racism and terrible amenities for visiting teams no longer works. Time to figure something else out, like late-game execution.