The Boston Celtics lost again on Sunday, dropping a 130-124 decision to the Miami Heat at home. It was the latest in a string of bad losses for the Celtics as they have fallen into play-in tournament territory with time running out before the playoffs. In a season of slumps for the team, this latest is coming at the worst possible time.
On Sunday against the Heat, the Celtics trailed by 26 at the break after allowing 79 first-half points. Jayson Tatum had 29, Evan Fournier added 30 and Boston closed the score late, but it never felt like the Heat were troubled. It was the sixth loss in the last nine games for the Celtics, who are now two-games behind Miami for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. In other words, Boston is firmly in the play-in tournament at this point.
How did this happen? How is a team with that much talent and a good coach in Brad Stevens only 35-33 at this point in the season? The answers are likely numerous and complicated. Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart have both missed significant time with injuries, while Tatum has dealt with post-COVID symptoms after testing positive on January 9. He returned to game action on January 25, but has been open about struggling with the after-effects ever since. Jaylen Brown is currently dealing with an ankle issue as well.
This might just be a lost year for the Celtics. As I wrote on Friday, teams that stuck around the NBA's Orlando bubble the longest have had issues this season. Boston lost to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2, and only had a 77-day offseason. NBA Finals participants usually get an offseason of around 110 days.
So maybe that's it. Maybe this is just a hangover for a supremely talented team after a long, arduous 2019-20 season. It could also be that Stevens' message isn't resonating the way it used to. He's in his eighth season in Boston and sometimes things get stale. Maybe it's time for a new voice in that locker room.
Whatever the cause, things are falling apart in Boston at the exact wrong time.