Grab Ahold of Those Final Eight Minutes, and Toss the First 40 Out
NEW YORK – There are eight things the Boston Celtics should take out of Monday night’s loss in Brooklyn.
They start with minute 41, and they end with minute 48.
The first 40 minutes of the contest? They were forgettable, at best, and deserve to be thrown by the wayside.
Those final eight minutes, however? They were adorned by every trait the Celtics must display in order to reach the lofty heights they seek.
After falling behind by as many as 27 points during the fourth quarter, marred by what Brad Stevens called “awful” defense, Boston played with heart, soul, and everything in between during the final eight-plus minutes of the game. The Celtics rattled off a 31-12 run during that time frame and had three chances to cut their deficit down to four with 40-plus seconds left on the clock.
They legitimately had a chance – albeit a small one – to win this game after being dominated for nearly three and a half quarters. Which begs the question: What exactly got into the Celtics after 40 minutes of underwhelming play?
Jayson Tatum had an answer.
“Just, for lack of a better term, just ball’s out,” he said as he described his team’s mindset during the run, during which he scored 15 of his career-high 34 points. “Doing every little thing it took to try to get a stop, everybody on one page, playing as hard as possible.”
The group that brought such traits to the table was made up by five players who had seen little-to-no time on the court together this season. Tatum was accompanied by Brad Wanamaker, Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis.
Yet despite their lack of experience together, the group pulled together as one. They connected for six assists during the final eight minutes after Boston totaled just 15 during the first 40 minutes of the game. They also forced Brooklyn to miss their final 10 field goal attempts of the night; the Nets did not score a field goal over the final 8:54 of the game.
“That last group, we turned, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey man, we’re down, let’s just [expletive] play. Like, forget it,’” said Brown, who scored 22 points. “And we played like we didn’t know what the score was.”
Soon enough, everyone was paying attention, because the Celtics had a legitimate shot at grabbing a win. However, Wanamaker, Tatum and Brown each missed 3-pointers that would have cut Boston’s deficit to four, and those misses paved the way for Brooklyn to hold onto its win by the skin of its teeth.
The Celtics fell, but they have something to hold onto from the defeat. The type of loose, free, confident and trustworthy basketball they displayed while battling back is what can make them great again. And that’s exactly what they discussed in the postgame locker room.
Wanamaker, in a rare appearance with the media following the best performance of his young career, said that Kyrie Irving, who missed the game due to a quad contusion, delivered a positive message to the team that highlighted that exact point.
“After the game, Kyrie came and talked to us about it,” Wanamaker said. “Like, we’ve got to play the way we played [those] the last couple of minutes to start the game.”
Tatum elaborated a bit more on the conversation.
“(If) we play ball’s out the whole game we’ll be pretty tough to beat,” he said. “It’s tough being down 27 and trying to make a comeback in this league. Guys are just too good. It can happen, but it’s very rare. So we’ve got to start out the gate like that and not dig a hole for ourselves.”
Those comments weren’t pulled out of thin air. The evidence exists, right on Monday’s game tape, that shows what the Celtics are capable of when they play with such passion and purpose. Those final eight minutes served as a bright light that was shined on a dark night. Those first 40 minutes, on the other hand? Let’s all do our best to forget about them.