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Celtics can’t repeat poor shooting from Game 2 in Game 3

Celtics

The Cavaliers evened the series by outscoring the Celtics, 64-40, in the second half, and extending their lead to as many as 29 points.

Celtics can’t repeat poor shooting from Game 2 in Game 3

The Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the second round of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

The NBA, as the last coach to lead the Celtics to an NBA championship liked to say and often says, is a successful league.

It may seem banal or simplistic, this old phrase from Doc Rivers. This may sound suspiciously like an excuse. This also happens to be true.

Sometimes your five misses and misses, and their five wins and wins, and there’s nothing Red Auerbach in his prime or any other coach worthy of his clipboard can do to keep the gap from growing on the board display.

It happens, those rare, lousy nights at TD Garden where the edge is only nice to visitors.

This is also true: The Celtics better hope the explanation for their 118-94 loss to Donavan Mitchell and the Cavaliers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal isn’t more complicated than that.

The Cavaliers smoked the Celtics in Game 2, turning a 54-54 halftime tie into a rout in front of a TD Garden crowd strangely muted by its usual standards even when the game still had some suspense.

The Cavaliers evened the series (with Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland on Saturday and Monday) by outscoring the Celtics, 64-40, in the second half, and building their lead to as many as 29 points.

Mitchell, who scored 33 points in a Game 1 loss, was the best and savviest player on the court. In the first half, he did everything possible to involve his extremely talented but often laconic teammate Evan Mobley.

Mitchell took just six shots in the first half, but dished out five assists, while Mobley (15 points in 19 first-half minutes, 21 total) asserted himself on both ends of the floor.

In the second half, Mitchell took command, scoring 16 points and knocking down four 3-pointers in the third quarter alone, including a buzzer-beater to give the Cavaliers a 90-78 lead heading into the fourth, when a frustrating evening has officially turned. in a rout.

Mitchell finished with 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting. All five of Cleveland’s starters shot over 50 percent from the floor, with Max Strus leading the way. worse among them with five successes in 10 attempts.

Overall, the Cavaliers shot 54.7 percent from the field (47 of 86) and 46.4 percent from 3-point territory (13 of 28).

The Cavaliers succeeded. What about the Celtics? They missed, as if the intention was not to shoot but to damage the rim beyond repair.

All five Celtics starters were below the 50 percent threshold. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both went 7 for 17. Tatum was 2 for 5 from 3 and Brown was 0 for 6.

Tatum, by the way, is now shooting 46 of 113 (40.7 percent) overall in the playoffs, and 11 of 41 (26.8 percent) from 3. If he can’t get his shooting straightened out in Cleveland, will this go beyond a simple small crisis in what is happening here? territory.

Unlike the first game, no Celtic could get it back. Al Horford started quickly, hitting three of his first four 3-point attempts before missing his final three from long range and finishing 4 of 9 overall. Jrue Holiday was 2 of 7 – for such a valuable player, he sure has some weird shot charts – and even Derrick White was infected with brick-itis, making just 3 of 11 attempts.

The Celtics made an abysmal 33 of 80 field goal attempts (41.2 percent) and just eight 3s — one fewer than White in Game 1 — on 35 attempts (22.9 percent). The offense too often felt like some sort of bizarre homage to Antoine Walker at his worst.

“We shot the ball incredibly poorly in the two games we lost here at home,” Brown said, referring to the Celtics’ Game 2 loss to the Heat in the first round, their only playoff loss until ‘See you on Wednesday. “And they shot the ball really well.”

But Brown didn’t stop there. He shouldn’t have either.

“We didn’t play defense to our level tonight… Defensively, it was an unacceptable performance,” he said.

And that’s why what happened Thursday night can’t entirely be attributed to Rivers’ familiar adage, and why we can’t declare this defeat as an outlier, which turned out to be the defeat of the second game against the Heat. .

The Celtics’ recent history — not so much this season, but in a broader perspective since Tatum and Brown established themselves as franchise cornerstones — suggests they don’t always handle prosperity well.

Complacency can return just as we begin to believe that it has been defeated. They should be past the point of needing a wake-up call or something alarming to happen, but sometimes they still don’t wake up until they hit the snooze button a few times.

Maybe they were caught doing what we do: wondering what a matchup with the relentless Knicks would be like, or wondering if the Timberwolves are really as fierce as they seem. Thinking about the future – dreaming about the future – while there is still business and the intrepid Mitchell to overcome in the moment.

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla didn’t echo Rivers’ way of thinking, instead saying poor spacing bogged down the offense and led to their woes in transition defense. He seemed to be doing his best not to be too bothered by what he was seeing.

“You treat it the same way you would a win,” he said. “You come tomorrow, watch the film and get better for Game 3.”

Maybe a few shots wouldn’t hurt either, Coach. After Thursday’s debacle, this team could stand to see a few qualify.

Boston

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