Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Al Horford on Celtics disappointing Game 7 performance: 'We failed, we wanted to win a championship'

It wasn't the ending the Celtics had hoped for after nearly pulling off a series comeback against the Miami Heat, only to force a Game 7 at TD Garden and get embarrassed in front of their home fans.

Their 103-84 blowout loss will be just another side note in NBA history, as the previous 150 teams that came before the C's that failed at what seems like the impossible of winning four straight when trailing 3-0 in a best-of-7.

Following the Heat's domination in Game 3 to take a commanding lead and what looked like was going to be a sweep one week ago, it didn't appear like it could get any worse for Boston, and for the next three outings they played like their season depended on it to knot it all up 3-3. But on the verge of re-writing the history books, the Celtics folded while Miami took care of business just like they did in the first three games to clinch the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I thought we were tight. I thought we played tight," Malcolm Brogdon said to reporters after missing Game 6, but returned in Game 7. "When you play that way, it makes you hesitant on both sides of the ball. I thought Miami played the opposite."
The defense that was played in Boston's three victories was nowhere to be found Monday, as the Heat shot it comfortably from beyond the 3-point arc at 50%. Not to mention, Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on the first play of the night and the C's never recovered, as Brogdon (partially torn tendon) was also limited on both ends of the floor and even Derrick White ran out of gas to conclude the season.
"I'm not going to get caught up in the consistency questions and things like that," Al Horford said in his postgame presser. "We have a good group. We had a lot going on this year and our guys should hold our heads high because we had a lot of adversity. In that locker room, we dealt with a lot of things and our group was very professional, worked really hard, and it's disappointing that we didn't get our result."

"We failed. We wanted to win a championship. That was our goal, but despite that, I'm very proud of that group because there was never any excuse. We went through ups and downs, but we stuck with it."
Meanwhile, questions remain around Jaylen Brown -- who finished with 19 points (1-of-9 shooting from 3-point range) and eight turnovers -- on his future with a franchise that still has so much promise when it comes to its veteran core.
"It's extremely important," Tatum said when asked of the C's re-signing Brown long-term. "He's one of the best players in this league. Plays both ends of the ball and [is] still relatively young. And he's accomplished a lot so far in his career. So, I think it's extremely important."
Still, despite being the league's second ranked defense during the regular season, the Celtics found themselves reverting to old bad habits on D throughout the playoffs -- especially when the 3-ball wasn't falling -- something Brogdon called out his teammates on about after a brutal Game 3 loss in Miami and again following Game 7, as the lack of an identity on defense.
"It was the issue," Brogdon said without hesitation. "This was a team last year prided themselves on defense. I think defense was their calling card. And this year, offense was our calling card. I don't think you win championships with a better offense than defense."
Despite the Celtics winning 57 games in the regular season and finishing in the top-five in offensive and defensive rating (the only team in the top-five when it comes to each category), ultimately the roster that was shooting 40% from deep coming into the East Finals, only connected on 21-of-91 from behind the arc in the last 10 quarters of the series against the Heat.

Of course you can't forget interim-turned-head coach in Joe Mazzulla, who took over for the now fired Ime Udoka literally days prior to training camp. The 34-year old rookie coach seemed to loose the trust of his players at times, but in the end they all seemed to get along and believe in one another, something that was more than evident in the "one-game at a time" attitude displayed in what became the last week of season -- particularly following the buzzer-beater in Game 6.
"It's one of the best locker rooms I've ever been a part of. The guys cared and gave everything they had," Joe Mazzulla said during his postgame comments. "That's the most important thing to take from this. Obviously, we didn't achieve our goal. We didn't win. We failed in that regard, but it's not because the guys didn’t have a sense of togetherness, character, and just who they are as people."
As far as Tatum is concerned, Mazzulla did an exceptional job, all things considered and under the circumstances that he took over a roster with championship aspirations. 
"We got to the conference finals, Game 7. I don't think people give him or us enough credit that, Tatum said of head coach. "Two days before the season starts, we find out we're going to have a new coach. We didn't have Rob [Williams] the first 25, 30 games of the season. We never got a chance to have [Danilo Gallinari], and we got a new coach one day before Media Day. You know, that was an adjustment. We all figured it out. Obviously, we wanted to win the championship. Didn't happen.

"But I think Joe did a great job. We won 50-some odd games. We got to the Game 7 … Obviously, everybody can be better, learn from this. But I think Joe did a great job this year."
If anything, the disappointment of this Game 7 loss should strengthen the camaraderie of what seems to be an already tight-knit group to get another crack at it come next season.
"We've shown that we can get there. We got the conference finals," Tatum said when asked what'll take to get over the hump to win a championship in the future. "It's my fourth time in six years. I've been to The Finals once. We had a special opportunity this year. We just fell a little bit short. It's not like we're not capable or we don't have the talent. We do. It just didn't go our way this year."

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of The Associated Press

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