Robb: Celtics lacking clutch gene against the Heat

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(Kevin Cox/Getty Images)

A brief summary of the first half of Game 4 for the Celtics: A scoreless Jayson Tatum, 11 turnovers, 40 percent shooting and several defensive miscommunications. A combination of those factors usually leads to a disaster on the scoreboard, something that Brad Stevens acknowledged after a 112-109 loss to the Heat in Game 4.

“I thought our first half, for whatever reason, we never looked crisp,” Stevens said, “And then, obviously, that showed itself in our shooting numbers. I thought we were lucky to be 50-44 at halftime, to be candid.”

For one night, the basketball gods appeared to take pity on the C’s as Miami found themselves in an early shooting rut of their own over the opening 24 minutes. A dismal start by Boston only resulted in a six-point halftime deficit, a manageable margin to rally from. Sure enough, the Celtics did just that, digging themselves out of a 12-point, third-quarter hole to take an 85-84 lead with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we found a nice rhythm,” Stevens said of the initial comeback. “We really attacked the zone much better in the second, we shot the ball with authority. We hit the middle but we also screened the outside. We got great looks. I felt like we were getting good looks all night.”

While a lot of things went wrong for the C’s in what was without a doubt their worst played game of the series, this team found themselves in a position to win yet again in the fourth quarter for the fourth time in this series. Up one with nine minutes left was a good place to be given how bad things looked early. Even after a 7-0 Heat run midway through the fourth quarter put Miami ahead by six points, the C’s found themselves down just three again with over three minutes left. A couple scores combined with pair stops would have made this a tied series at 2-2 despite an incredible shooting night from Tyler Herro (37 points) and countless unforced errors by Boston (19 turnovers).

Yet, a familiar trend surfaced again in the closing minutes of Game 4. With the game on the line, the Celtics couldn’t put together winning basketball on both ends of the floor. Miami went on a 9-3 run after Boston trimmed their lead to three, effectively putting the game away with 57 seconds left after Herro cut backdoor on Marcus Smart for a layup. (It was an ugly fourth quarter for him on both ends).

The Celtics have been the better team in this series on a minute-by-minute basis. However, games aren't decided that way and when it comes to crunch time, there is no comparison through four games. The Heat have outexecuted the C’s in every facet of the game, which has put them in the driver's seat with a 3-1 series lead.

How ugly are the numbers for Boston in these tight spots? In clutch situations (clutch is defined by NBA.com as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is 5 or less), the Heat have outscored the Celtics by 23 points in the past four games. That number is actually artificially low in Boston’s favor when you consider the circumstances of Games 3 and 4. Here’s a full breakdown of where each game in the series stood with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter:

Game 4: 95-90 Heat lead (Heat go up by nine with 57 seconds left, win 112-109. Officially counts as +2 for Celtics but it should be +4 for Heat since the game was pretty much sealed with Herro's  layup with 57 seconds left)

Game 3: 104-88 Celtics lead (Celtics win 117-106 but Heat trimmed C's lead to 5 with 45 seconds left before Boston padded their lead with free throws late. If we take away four of Smart’s meaningless ones in the closing seconds, this is a +9 for Heat in crunch time, making the C’s sweat a game in which they otherwise dominated)

Game 2: 89-89 (Heat win 106-101)

Game 1: 99-93 Celtics lead (Heat win 117-114 in OT)

So where exactly are things going wrong for the Celtics? Pretty much everywhere depending on the night.

Celtics clutch metrics vs. Heat in East Finals

Offensive Rating: 87.9
Defensive Rating: 144.4
Net Rating -56.6

While scoring was the issue in closing minutes during Games 1 and 2, defense was the problem in Game 4 as Brad Stevens turned to his small-ball lineup with ugly results.

The Celtics allowed 166 points per 100 possessions during ‘clutch’ possessions in Game 4 per NBA.com/stats, including failing to get a stop on four consecutive occassions as the Heat extended a 98-95 lead up to 107-98 with under a minute remaining after a 9-3 run.

Miami masterfully went after