Let’s go back to January 11, when the Boston Celtics took on the Philadelphia 76ers in London, England. For most of the first half, the Celtics looked overmatched and outplayed by a Sixers team that currently sits below .500. With 6:56 left in the second quarter, Boston trailed 49-27, a deficit of 22 points. The C’s then went on a run and trailed by just nine at halftime. Boston took over in the second half, outscoring Philly 66-46. This game is one of the nine victories for the Celtics this season when trailing by 12 or more.
Last night against New Orleans, Boston got down early again. It was the eighteenth time they had trailed by double digits in a game this season. But unlike many times before, Boston couldn’t pull this one out.
The New Orleans Pelicans seemed to be a step ahead from the start and went up by ten at halftime. They opened up the second half with a basket, stretching their lead to twelve. Then Kyrie Irving and the starters, who were outscored by Anthony Davis alone in the first half, came alive. Irving had just three points in the first half, and a rough night overall, going 8-24 from the field with six turnovers. But Boston put up 32 in the third quarter, and the defense held New Orleans to just 17 fourth-quarter points, eventually forcing overtime. Boston had a couple chances to win, but Irving was off down the stretch, missing three shots in the final three and a half minutes. Boston couldn’t complete the comeback, as Davis and Jrue Holiday led the Pelicans to a victory in overtime.
Last night was just the latest installment in the growing pattern of falling behind. And unlike the game against Philly in London, Boston couldn’t pull out the W. After the game, Irving expressed concern over the Celtics’ bad habit. “We can’t come back every game. It’s as simple as that,” he said. In the regular season, coming from behind is hard enough. When NBA teams get up big, they smell blood. So the fact that the Celtics have nine wins when down by trailing by 12 or more already this season is pretty incredible.
Now, in the postseason, mounting comebacks is even more challenging. The big difference is the teams are better. Philly and New Orleans are middle of the road teams at best, and even with them, you can see how difficult the comeback trail is. Imagine that instead of those teams, it’s the LeBron James led Cavaliers, or John Wall’s Wizards, who took the Celtics to the brink last year. Or let’s look forward a little – the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets. Good luck coming back from 15 down to those teams once, let alone a couple times in a series. Not only are the teams better, they are locked in. The regular season is long and tiring, so teams and players aren’t always focused for all 48 minutes. This makes comebacks a little easier. In the playoffs, you aren’t going to find teams letting off the gas pedal.
It’s hard to say why the Celtics get down early so often. Sometimes it’s poor shooting, maybe it’s also a lack of focus. Whatever the reason, Boston better find an answer because come playoff time, it could cost them their season.
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