Making sense of the Celtics' crushing defeat

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, left, reacts in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the second half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, Sunday, May 27, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I’m spending my Memorial Day morning at my internship less than 10 hours after watching firsthand the Celtics choke away a golden opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.  I’ve had “I Fall Apart” by Post Malone on repeat for the last half hour and it honestly doesn't even sound that good because I forgot my headphones at home today and now I have settle for the cheap ones that are free for anyone to use. If a Tyrannosaurus Rex were to burst into this office right now, I would leap into its jaws like Scrooge McDuck leaps into vaults of gold coins and jewels.

So yeah, I’m not in a great place right now but I prefer this feeling to what I felt after the last soul-crushing loss I endured. After Super Bowl LII, I was angry because there was no reason the Patriots should have lost. They had only their own ineptitude on defense and Belichick’s arrogance that to blame for that soul crushing loss. It felt like a betrayal to watch them get carved up by Nick Foles while Malcolm Butler stood on the sidelines. I’m disappointed the Celtics lost sure but more so, I’m just sad for that great group of guys in the locker room.

The 2018 Celtics were a wildly entertaining team. From watching a unchained Kyrie, to development of Brown and Tatum, to the emergence of “Scary” Terry Rozier, to the Twitter memes, this entire season was a gift. This was a team that never quit, played above their ceiling and always left it all out on the floor. I really couldn't ask for a better team to come home and watch on a low-quality reddit stream while my mental health crumbled under the weight of 15 different projects and five different law papers.

The reason the Celtics lost is the same reason it was so amazing they were in this position to begin with. With Kyrie and Hayward out, the Celtics suddenly had to rely on their young stars and career role players to make a significant postseason run. For nearly three full playoff rounds they rose to the occasion. The stage was just too big and the lights too bright last night.

They hung around in the first half, going toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with the Cavaliers. Al Horford was getting his touches in the post and either scoring on his man or kicking it out to an open shot on the wing. LeBron hadn’t caught fire yet, wasn’t getting meaningful support around him and Tatum who had struggled at times this series, was cooking. In the second half they said “Nah, screw that” and proceeded to end every offensive possession with either an ISO as the buzzer sounded or a three with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. It’s tough to enough to shoot well in a Game 7 and tougher still when almost every opportunity is a result of terrible shot selection. You could practically see the nerves crawling all over their skin as the margin for error shrunk with every wasted possession down the floor. The Celtics youth and experience in games of this caliber really did sink them as the offense broke down. But that’s precisely why it’s so hard to be mad at this loss. The reason that this playoff run was so magical was BECAUSE they were so young. They weren’t supposed to be playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals after Kyrie and Hayward went down. I didn’t even pick them to get past Philadelphia. Instead we got to see a preview of the next five years as Brown, Tatum and Rozier announced to the world that they were here and ready to alter the NBA playoffs for the foreseeable future and gave the city of Boston their greatest underdog since the 2001 Patriots.

Terry Rozier finished 2 of 14 from the field, Jaylen Brown 5-18 and Marcus Smart 1-10. The standout moment was Rozier’s posterization attempt on LeBron with the three-on-one fast break with 3:30 left in the third quarter. I had a That’s So Raven moment where I saw what was going to happen moments before it did and I almost lept from the balcony to tackle Rozier in midair. The safe and smart play is to make use of the man advantage and not challenge the greatest rim defender of all time at his position because you think you’re about to be the next iconic photo in Celtics’ playoff history.  Awareness in a moment like that comes with experience. Experience the 2018 Celtics didn't have.

The third quarter was particularly horrendous. After going into halftime with a 43-39 lead, the Celtics came out and shot 3-18 from the field in the quarter. I knew right then and there they probably weren’t winning this game. You simply just can’t afford to have a clunker of a quarter like that against a LeBron James-led team. He will make you pay every single time.

Let me just talk about LeBron for a second, because if there is one thing to be mad about from this game; it’s that the United States government continues to allow this terrorist of Boston to walk free on the streets.

This man has come into the TD Garden in 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and now 2018 and just dropped haymakers on my head every single time. In 2015, I was like Theon Greyjoy, clinging to the past (2008 and 2010) to hold some semblance of freedom. Today, I am Reek and I fully accept that my body, mind and soul is the personal property of LeBron James.

Last night really hurt. After the Patriots, the Celtics were the second sports team that I really fell in love with and started following to the point that it had a negative effect on my schoolwork, relationships and day-to-day well being. Walking into the Garden last night, I really felt I was there to watch them finally make their way back to the NBA Finals. I was going to grab some confetti and think “Yes, this is for Vitor Faverani, Greg Stiemsma and all the other Celtic legends that never got this opportunity.” Didn't quite shake out that way but it’s for sure coming.

Jayson Tatum just completed the second greatest scoring postseason ever by a rookie. Jaylen Brown will bounce back. I’ve seen him rise to the occasion too many times to think otherwise.  Besides Smart, every key piece is still under contract. I’m still not quite convinced Danny Ainge won’t trade Rozier this offseason, but at the very least the Celtics know they have a capable backup and serviceable substitute for Kyrie on the bench.

Brad Stevens had a quote last night that I really love.

“The pain is part of the path.”

Anything worth chasing is worth enduring crippling disappointment and crushing setbacks.

The Celtics are going to be in the NBA Finals very soon. With Kyrie and Hayward returning it very well might be next year. And when they finally do get to the promised land and raise a banner for the first time since I was in elementary school, nights like last night are going to make it all the sweeter.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be replaying Tatum’s dunk on LeBron until my eyes bleed.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.