This is it. For the next three games, the Boston Celtics season and their championship aspirations are on the line. Win and keep playing. Lose and go home.
This is what Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics best player and team leader, was waiting for. No questions about contracts. No worries about individual numbers. Just total focus on the goal: hanging banner 18 from the rafters of the TD Garden.
Yet, here we are and Killer Kyrie has gone AWOL for the last three games. Irving’s wretched shooting, 19-for-62, an absurdly poor 30.7 percent clip, is a big reason why the Celtics are down 3-1 to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Yet, astonishingly, he thinks he should shoot more.
But he’s hardly the only one struggling. Gordon Hayward is also MIA, shooting just 4-for-18 over the past three losses, with the lack of volume as disconcerting as the hit rate. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are a combined 31-for-73. Indeed, the Celtics team, as a whole, has shot just barely 40 percent over Games 2, 3 and 4, including an ice cold 32 percent from behind the arc.
Worse, the Celtics shooting struggles have clearly bled into their defensive effort. After holding Antetokounmpo to 22 points on 7-for-21 shooting in Game 1, the Greek Freak has since toyed with the Celtics, averaging 33.3 points, 12.7 boards and 5.3 assists over the past three games.
He’s getting to the basket at will, drawing fouls and generally reminding everyone why he’s a leading MVP candidate. Observe:
But if it were just Antetokounmpo, it would be somewhat understandable. Indeed, the entire Bucks team has met with little resistance of late, shooting a combined 46 percent from the floor after being held to 35 percent in Game 1.
With Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton on the bench with four fouls each, it was the Bucks second unit that effectively put game 4 away by outscoring the Celtics 14-5 over roughly four minutes in the third quarter.
Irving’s defense has never been his strong suit, but his defensive quarterbacking left much to be desired in Game 4 as well. That said, he was hardly alone as poor decision making begat poor effort in the later stages of the loss.
Still, even though it may feel that way, the series and the season is not yet over. Whether or not the Boston Celtics can extend their run depends upon which team shows up for Game 5.
Will it be the disciplined and balanced team that smoked the Bucks in Game 1?
Or will it be the unfocused and egocentric group that got run off the floor in Games 2, 3 and 4?