The Celtics talked a big game after losing at the buzzer on Thursday night, determined not to give the Raptors any more momentum in their playoff series.
Boston players promised to come out fast and throw the first punch in Saturday night’s Game 4. They promised to be motivated and angry. Most importantly, they promised that there was no way they’d let the Raptors outplay them.
Unfortunately, none of those promises were kept. The Celtics were completely outplayed throughout their 100-93 loss, and now the series is all tied up at 2-2 with all the momentum on Toronto’s side.
The Raptors out-hustled the Celtics throughout the game, leading to twenty-four second-chance points.
They also hit everything from deep to start the game and finished the night with seventeen made threes on forty-four attempts.
The Celtics, on the other hand, hit just seven of their 35 shots from downtown. Many of those looks were wide open, but the Celtics couldn’t connect.
Boston’s third quarter struggles also continued Saturday night, with Toronto outscoring the C’s 32-24 in the frame. It’s a trend that the Celtics talked about over the first three games, but one that has yet to change.
Despite all of that, the Celtics still had a chance to win the game on Saturday night, which is a small positive from an otherwise disappointing evening in Orlando.
But more unsettling than their play on the floor was how Boston players summed up the game after the loss: The Raptors played harder than they did.
That is simply unacceptable at this time of the season and concerning for the Celtics.
“That was noticeable on both ends of the floor for most of the game,” said Jayson Tatum, who scored a game-high 24 points. “We were excited to play and obviously thought we’d bounce back. It’s 2-2 now, good opportunity to come back on Monday. We gotta win two out of three.”
“I don’t think we matched their intensity,” said Kemba Walker. “Those guys out-toughed us; they got loose balls and got offensive rebounds, things that we weren’t doing. That’s really it. We have to be better. We have to be tougher. We have to want it.”
Jaylen Brown forgot how to hit a shot for most of the game, missing his first nine attempts from three-point land.
He kept shooting and eventually hit a pair of threes in the fourth quarter but finished 2-for-11 from deep and just 4-for-18 overall.
He missed three triples in the fourth quarter before connecting, which killed any momentum Boston had in its favor at the time.
“I felt great going into the game. Shots just didn’t go down for me — open shots, good looks. You have to shoot with confidence and let it fly,” said Brown. “It’s the playoffs, time to play. That’s it. Ain’t too much more talking to be done, just need to play better.”
Head coach Brad Stevens said it was noticeable that his team didn’t look right after missed shots, which led to some easy looks for Toronto and its vaunted transition offense.
“They made it very tough on us and when you miss, it can kind of cascade on you. That’s what happened tonight. We have to handle that better,” said Stevens. “We have to move on. We have to play better, shoot better, feel better. We have to be ready to go Monday night.”
No one would blame their Game 4 performance on a Game 3 “hangover.” But for whatever reason, the Celtics just didn’t have it on Saturday night.
Simply put, they were their own worst enemies, and now Boston has a lot of work to do if they want to advance.
“We have to clean it up,” said Walker, who said it was unacceptable on his part that he only attempted nine shots in Game 4. “We have to find a way. We have to be better and I have to be better. I have to find a way to give my teammates a higher intensity and I will.
“No one every said it was going to be easy. These are the defending champs and they’ve been through it,” added Walker. “They’ve been to the Finals, been down before. They know what it takes. But I can’t stress it enough, we just have to be better.”
The Celtics are promising to be better in Game 5, and it really shouldn’t be too difficult to exceed the intensity they displayed in Game 4.
They said all the right things after Game 3, and did so again after Game 4. But talk isn’t going to win Monday night.
With that 2-0 series lead now a distant memory, it’s now the Celtics who find themselves facing a must-win situation heading into Game 5.