Inside the domino effect of one bad timeout for Celtics

(Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

One second in a 48-minute game shouldn’t mean much for the big picture. Yet, it was hard to deny the final tick of the third quarter was a pivotal turning point as the Celtics failed their test against one of the NBA’s best on Monday night, a 114-105 defeat to the Nuggets.

Brad Stevens is known for his ATO magic, but he got a little too cute for his own good at the end of the third quarter as the Celtics hung onto an 80-78 lead after Torey Craig drained a corner 3 (thanks to a late closeout from Jayson Tatum). The situation — 1.1 seconds remaining while inbounding the ball under one's own basket — was comparable to a football team getting the ball at their own 20 with time for one more play to run before halftime. A Hail Mary could produce points once in a while, but the odds are that if you try it, it would produce more harm than good in the long run, which is why teams opt for the kneel down nearly 100 percent of the time in that spot.

Stevens had a timeout that he was going to lose though and he wanted to get creative. Instead, he watched as Marcus Morris threw the ball out of bounds on the fly, opening the door for another Nuggets possession. Morris probably shouldn’t have thrown the ball down court, to begin with (Brown had a tough defender in Paul Millsap on him), but Stevens created the opportunity for that mess with the timeout.

“I probably shouldn’t have called the time out,” he acknowledged. “I’m going to lose it going into the fourth, and you think maybe if you can get a match-up down the court then that’s a good thing; otherwise, be safe. And I shouldn’t have done that. And then we just didn’t respond to that.”

Adversity has not been a friend to this team all year and Stevens created an opportunity for it by going for the home run play. He preaches hitting singles all the time to his players and yet he did not go for one here and it cost him.

Still, that doesn’t excuse what ended up being a string of errors from the C’s youngsters in the wake of the sequence, beginning with Brown looking like a space cadet with 1.1 seconds remaining. Watching him on this play shows you exactly why it has taken him months to earn Brad Stevens trust for crunch time minutes. Brown completely loses track of Craig and gives him the one thing that can hurt the C’s from that spot on the floor (a backdoor cut).

In an encouraging twist, there was no visible frustration shown by his teammates after the gaffe but the damage was done and it only rolled over to the fourth quarter. Denver put together a 16-2 run to take a nine-point lead and the hosts were never able to dig out of that hole.