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A problem persisting despite one's awareness of it just makes the matter more frustrating. But not all flaws get fixed.

That's easier to accept and laugh off when it's mild or inconsequential. It's a different story when dealing with an identity crisis that becomes a barrier to achieving one's ultimate goal.


The Celtics knew their defense had to be at the forefront of their identity to be at their best. They voiced that publicly and privately before the playoffs, during the postseason, and after getting eliminated in crushing fashion with a 103-84 loss to the Heat on their home floor.

After Boston fell behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, Malcolm Brogdon stated, "We haven't been consistently great defensively all year long. And that was the team's identity last year. And I think that's slipped away from us. We've had spurts where we've been great defensively but not consistently.

"Honestly, we've struggled in every series we've played. So now we're playing a team that's playing as if they're the best team in the league, and they're just incredibly disciplined, incredibly consistent. And I think we've struggled with teams that are consistent on a possession-by-possession basis every night."

When the Celtics are locked in defensively, even poor shooting doesn't distract them. Stops fuel an up-tempo operation. Playing with pace is also paramount to their success. Keeping the other team off the scoreboard and pushing the ball up the floor lends itself to more effective facilitating and consistently creating quality, in-rhythm shots.

Game 5, a 110-97 victory, was a prime example. But even Game 6 in Miami reinforced the winning formula for Boston. The visitors shot 7/35 (20 percent) from three-point range. Conversely, the Heat made 14/30 (46.7 percent) of their long-range looks.

Teams were 89-0 when they had a hit rate of at least 45 percent from beyond the arc, their opponent only converted on 25 percent or less of their threes, and both launched at least 30 attempts.

In their 104-103 triumph, Derrick White's buzzer-beating put-back saved the Celtics from a collapse caused by slowing the pace. But before that, despite their poor shooting, they were in control and had a ten-point lead with less than five minutes left.

Demonstrating outstanding interior defense held the hosts to 35.5 percent shooting from the field, making it easier for Boston to play up-tempo. Doing so fueled an aggressive attack that generated a ten-point advantage in the paint and six more points than Miami at the free-throw line. That was essential to overcoming the latter's 21-point edge from three-point range.

But after spending the regular season steering away from what worked last year and into an identity overly reliant on threes, Game 7 illustrated the Celtics' inability to settle into an approach where defense set the table for their success.

Faring 9/42 (21.4 percent) from beyond the arc took from their focus and physicality defensively.

At the podium afterward, Marcus Smart conveyed, "A lot of the time, our defense has been our kryptonite when we're not making shots."

The combination impacted their energy and offensive activity. And while this author doesn't blame Jaylen Brown for trying to overcompensate for Tatum playing on a bad wheel, it resulted in the two-time All-Star committing a career-high eight turnovers, steepening an already uphill climb.

Following their season-ending loss, Brown expressed, "(Our) defense has allowed us to get to this point. And offensively, we didn't play our best. And defensively, we were decent tonight, not good enough. Offensively, it just seemed like we couldn't hit a shot, and it just put more pressure on our defense. We had a bunch of good looks, and nothing went in. We all gotta sit back and reflect from that.

"Like I said before, we failed, and it's hard to pull anything else from that. From this situation. But it's been a blessing to play the game of basketball to this point, one game from the Finals, and it stings, like incredibly, and it's hard even being up here and talking about it.

"But all I can say is give credit to the group that we had this season. Give credit to the coaching staff that we had this season. We had a lot of ups and downs. We had a lot of things that was going on internally, etc., and we fought. We fought our way back from down 3-0, and we got to this position, and we came up short."


Tatum said of Boston's identity, "I think we're at our best when, I think (in) these last three games besides tonight, we really honed in on the defensive end. We showed how special and good that we can be as a unit.

"And we didn't shoot the ball necessarily well, but that's part of being in this league. Offense fluctuates from night to night, but defense can always, for the most part, maintain. Even when we miss shots, still got to lock in on the defensive end."

Al Horford shared, "We addressed a lot of those things, and right now, I don't have the answer for you. We addressed a lot of them, especially after the Philly series, and even the Atlanta series, we're like, 'Hey, we have to be better, we have to do these things,' and it's something that continues to happen. It's a pattern that happens with us, and we're gonna have to do some soul-searching there because some things have to change in that regard."

Brogdon, the first Celtics player to the podium, labeled getting away from the defensive identity the team took on last season as "The issue."

The Sixth Man of the Year proceeded to state, "I think this was a team last year that prided themselves on defense. I think defense was their calling card. And this year, offense was our calling card. And I don’t think you win championships with a better offense than you have a defense."

The Celtics had that lesson reinforced the hard way, as leaning into an offensive identity and too often putting too much stock in their success from beyond the arc produced a season where for as much as they achieved, they failed to reach their full potential.

Further Reading

With Partnership at Crossroads, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum Discuss Former's Future with Celtics

Celtics Discuss Trying to Overcome Jayson Tatum's Ankle Injury in Game 7 Loss to Heat: 'A Shell of Myself'

Malcolm Brogdon Explains What Caused Boston Celtics to Miss 2023 NBA Finals

Here's What Stood Out in Game 7 Loss to Heat: Celtics Come Up Small, Enter Offseason of Uncertainty

Jaylen Brown Reacts to Historic Run Against Miami Heat in Eastern Conference Finals

Derrick White Discusses Season-Saving Buzzer Beater: 'Now It's on to Game 7'

The Celtics Could've Folded and Flamed Out, Instead, They're Inching Closer to History: 'We're Not Going Down Like This'

Film Room: Grant Williams' Value on Full Display in Celtics' Game 4 Win vs. Heat

Celtics Stars Speak on Team Sticking Together Down 3-0: 'We Didn't Want That to Define Us'

Jaylen Brown Responds to Rumors of Disconnect in Celtics Locker Room