Late in the season it became difficult to understand and watch the Celtics

Forsberg: The Celts’ late-season slump is getting harder to explain and watch appeared in the original NBC Sports Boston

Boston Celtics It became a chore to watch.

The same team that battled through early season adversity to sit atop the NBA with an insanely likable cast of characters now routinely fumbles double-digit leads and saves some of its craziest play in key late moments.

Saturday night, while playing the second night of a consecutive game without three Utah starters, The Celtics led by 19 points and missed two chances to steal the win In the last seconds. The loss dropped Boston to third place in the Eastern Conference as rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia moved forward while finding their late-season ruts.

Jason Tatum back off. Robert Williams injured. Much of what ails Boston can be mitigated when either of those two things change. But it wasn’t pretty while waiting for Tatum to find his usual groove late in the season and for Williams to work his way back from a hamstring strain.

The Celtics have officially clinched the playoffs for the ninth straight season

Since Williams limped off against Brooklyn on March 3, the Celtics have blown four double-digit leads in head-slapping losses to inferior competition, then gone with variable strength as they lose to the lowly Rockets as part of their current six-game road trip.

Perhaps this is tougher because, a year ago, it was the Celtics who ran furious second-half runs and loaded their best basketball into the postseason.

This year, we left longing for a team that started the season 21-5 while playing offense at a historic level. Boston is 28-18 since Dec. 10 with an offense that ranks 15th in the NBA.

Even when they faced initial adversity that began with a loss to Golden State in December in a rematch, this team still found a way to win ugly. Back on January 21, the Celtics had the best record in basketball, by 4.5 games on 76ersand 5.5 game over the edge dollars.

Boston has since gone 14-11 and is behind both the Bucks (21-3 in that period) and the Sixers (18-6) in the Eastern Conference standings. The Celtics play both teams over six days as part of the remaining 10 games on the regular season schedule.

The Celtics suffered heavy losses, but Saturday made a strong case for the most insane. play without williams, AlhorfordAnd Marcus Smart Complicated things for sure. But Boston came up completely unglued in the second half, and some questionable decisions late in the game exacerbated the team’s woes late in the game.

Coach Joe Mazola, now 7-6 since the temporary mark was removed prior to All-Star weekend practice, is in the spotlight due to Boston’s inability to finish games. He doesn’t deserve all the blame here because he’s not one to throw slow three-pointers on one hand and fail to close on the other, though he may need to firmly remind his players that more sustained efforts must be made to avoid them. These lapses.

But Mazzulla did have some blind spots that took pole position on Saturday. It includes:

lack of Derek White at crucial moments

The Celtics played 162 minutes of basketball in crisis times – scoring within five points, in the last five minutes. White, who you can make the case for was Boston’s third-best player this season, was on the floor for 55.4 of those minutes (34.2 percent). Boston has played 60 minutes of overtime this season and White has been on the field for 16.3 of them (27.2 percent).

With three entry-level guards on the roster when Marcus Smart and Malcolm BrogdonIt certainly complicates finding time for all three players in key locations. Understandably, Mazzulla leaned heavily on Smart and Brogdon in the late game spots.

But White’s fourth-quarter DNP on Saturday night was totally baffling. The Celtics were playing without three starters, including Smart, and they were unable to find him At any time for white? Yes, the Celtics needed size but White is one of the best decision makers on the team and can often negate the size he gives up with his basketball IQ. He should be more down to earth no matter his matches.

Of the 166 players who have appeared in at least 20 games this season, White ranks ninth in the NBA with a net rating of +20.1. Smart is at +10.3 while Brogdon is at +0.3 in primetime minutes.

Mazzola recently admitted he needed to lean more on White in those moments, yet White continues to be benched in the big spots.

No more plays run for Jaylen Brown in key places

Since the All-Star break, Jaylen Brown He was Boston’s most consistent and effective scorer. As Tatum goes through a rare slump in March, the masked Brown has put the Celtics’ offense on his shoulders.

But no matter how much Brown grooves, the ultimate ensembles always seem built for Tatum. On Saturday night, Tatum didn’t have a single field goal in the second half, yet Boston’s determined plays were written in Tatum’s last 35 seconds.

We rarely dribble into getting the ball into your best player’s hands with the game still in the balance. But the Celtics have two superstars and they rarely get any use out of them. Tatum attracts an enormous amount of interest in late-play situations, and Boston hasn’t been able to capitalize on him by setting up plays that feature Tatum as a decoy.

Boston’s endgame sets, which lately always seem to start with Tatum 50 feet from the hoop in the backcourt, are generally lacking in inspiration.

Lots of 2 for 1

Mazzulla loves math. Teams should strive to take advantage of the possibility of having additional possessions. But the Celtics more often than not rush into action late in the quarter and settle for poor looks just for the chance of an extra possession.

Even worse, the Celtics have been routinely burned by buzzer-beaters from opponents who, after Boston rushes through their possessions, usually quietly burn the Celtics at the last second. The end of the quarters has been a sore point for Boston in general and the team often needs to prioritize quality over quantity.

Despite all the doom and gloom as Boston endures these insane losses, they are still in control of their own destiny. Victories over Milwaukee and/or Philadelphia could go a long way to determining Boston’s seeding spot. Always one of Tatum’s hot streaks, the Celtics are far from looking like the best team in basketball again.

But when Tatum steps back, he brings up all of the little problems that just made it worse for this team. It highlights a coach who endures many of the bumps most first-year coaches face (though most don’t wear the championship expectations Mazzola inherited).

Boston’s focus should be better before the postseason arrives. Mazzulla should be more crisp with his rotation and play in a play-off stage where the coaches are really judged (and where he will play chess against more experienced coaches).

The Celtics haven’t had their magic in a while. Feelings are not as good as before. There is so much to discover and there are only 10 games left.

It’s been a tough hour lately but it will be overlooked and forgotten if the Celtics can capitalize on what made them great. This team desperately needs to figure out how to come back with more focus, more intensity, and most importantly – more fun.

Because he is not there now for the team – or for the viewer.

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