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Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers once famously stated to his fan base early in an NFL season: “Five letters here just for everybody out there … R-E-L-A-X.”
Dennis Schroder didn’t quite go Rodgers on us Saturday night after the Celtics squandered away a 19-point lead in Cleveland, but his tone and his words gave off a similar vibe to that of the star quarterback while Rodgers unleashed his famous quote.
“There’s no frustration. We lost. It happens,” a relaxed Schroder said, after scoring a game-high 28 points during Boston’s 91-89 defeat. He continued, “You can lose sometimes. Sometimes you blow a lead and then you lose a game. It happens. I came back from minus-26 before. It happens.”
It happens - all over the league, it should be noted, and at a more regular rate than one might imagine.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Saturday night just happened to be one of those nights for them.
Boston built a 19-point lead over Cleveland after Jayson Tatum canned a 3-pointer with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter. Fast-forward just eight minutes and 23 seconds of playing time later, and it was all of a sudden trailing by one at the 6:43 mark of the fourth quarter.
This matchup remained a one-possession game from that moment on, and Cleveland happened to make one more play than Boston down the stretch to pull out the victory. That play came from Darius Garland, who drew a foul on Marcus Smart with 9.4 seconds remaining and then hit two free throws that stood as the game’s deciding points.
There will always be emotions that are attached to games like this, especially for a rabid fan base like Celtics Nation. However, if one takes a step back, it becomes evident that there isn’t much reason for concern in Boston when it comes to fumbling away leads.
Saturday marked just the second instance this season during which the Celtics have blown a double-digit lead during the second half to lose a game. The first instance arrived back on Nov. 1 at TD Garden, when the Chicago Bulls also rallied back from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit against Boston.
Two such instances are more than any team would like to experience, but truth be told, there is more evidence on the other side of the conversation for Boston that supports the notion that it is well equipped to hold onto big leads, to respond to in-game adversity, or to battle back from large deficits itself.
Every other double-digit, second-half lead the Celtics have held this season – all five of them – led to C's triumphs, including four during Boston’s previous five games. Three of those wins were blowouts, during which the C’s built leads of 23 points against Orlando, 26 points against Miami, and 18 points against Toronto, respectively. Boston stomped on all three of those teams’ throats during the respective fourth quarters, retaining double-digit leads for nearly the entirety of those periods while pulling away for runaway victories.
The lone loss for the Celtics during that five-game stretch? It arrived in Dallas, on a night during which the Celtics just so happened to erase what was – you guessed it – a 19-point deficit against the Mavericks while the C’s were without their leading scorer, Jaylen Brown. Boston was on the verge of pulling off its own comeback victory before Luka Doncic drained a miraculous 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the game for Dallas.
The lesson here is that NBA teams occasionally blow leads. Good NBA teams occasionally blow leads. As Schroder succinctly put it, “It happens.”
It has happened twice for Boston during its first 13 games. That’s not nothing, but it also might not be something.
These two losses cannot be associated with last season’s Celtics, who blew lead after lead after lead during the 2020-21 campaign. This is a new season, with a new coach, and a new roster, and an entirely different dynamic.
Does Saturday night sting the C’s? You bet it does. But it doesn’t define what they’re all about. The more prevalent evidence indicates that this team is prone to putting opponents away and to responding to adversity, and that’s exactly what it plans to do during Monday night’s rematch with these very same Cavaliers.
“We know exactly what we’re coming to play against again on Monday – the crowd and the players,” said Rob Williams. “So obviously, we’ll be waiting on that for sure.”
In the meantime, Boston’s faithful would be wise to take a page out of Rodgers’ book and just relax, while also listening to Schroder when he says “it happens.”
It happened Saturday night. The odds and the evidence say it won’t happen very often the rest of the season – if at all.