The one that got away

The Celtics probably should have snapped their two-game losing streak on Monday night. They had a clear advantage against the Cavs, a game they had no business coming away with a loss during. Things were going okay. A double-digit lead headed into the fourth quarter, despite being three starters down. Was it going to happen for them? Nope, because they choked.

The Celtics NBA Championship Odds are still looking pretty solid, and that’s as it should be. A few losses in a row at this time should do nothing to worry voters that the team’s ship is sinking or going anywhere fast. 

The first 50 games of last season saw the C’s as a .500 team or slightly worse, so it’s impressive they got as far as they did by riding the high. Let’s talk about this Cavs contest, though.

Fourth Quarter Collapse

Life was going well for Boston in the first three-quarters of their Monday game. They had a tough Cavs team on the ropes, it seemed. Up double digits, it would take a lot for them to blow this lead. 

They also had the same thoughts before forfeiting a 28-point lead in a loss to the Nets and then losing to the Knicks furthermore. They could not get it done against teams that were clearly their rivals, so it had to be weighing heavy coming into their next game.

Clearly not the case, as the team forfeited the whole lead, allowing Cleveland to score 31 while they could only put up 17 points. Donovan Mitchell hit some big free throws late, while they also made a choice to keep Jarrett Allen on the bench. It’s a rarity that he isn’t being used as the closer. Both Caris LeVert and Lamar Stevens played the whole fourth. 

The biggest surprise of this, though, was that Stevens was yet to check-in. They wanted energy, so they put him in. He had three points and six rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. Not bad for a guy playing as a stretch wing. 

And in the overtime, he made a huge three-point basket while locking things down on the other side of the floor. He became the first Cleveland player to earn the defensive player of the game chain in consecutive contests.

Boston’s last sequence saw them try to go full-court in five seconds to win it and avoid overtime. Payton Pritchard was the one who had taken the ball down the court for the last-second shot. 

He missed it, and then Grant Williams missed on a putback. But, on the play, a foul was whistled. Williams was stepping to the line. He promised Donovan Mitchell he would make both and give the C’s a victory.

Missing The Mark

The thing is, Grant Williams doesn’t miss a lot of shots. He’s 40% or better from three yet again this season. After shooting 90% on limited free-throw tries last year, he’s at 81% on the year now. So the fact of the matter is that this was a huge shock. 

Williams stepped to the line with a tie game and just 0.9 seconds left on the clock. He missed not one but both foul shots for Boston. They missed another tip-in, and Cleveland survived long enough to get to overtime.

Williams played a minute in the OT and missed a three. The team shot 1-8 from the floor without an offensive rebound. The Cavs' defense stepped up, with Caris LeVert recording a block and Stevens getting five points and two rebounds in a low-scoring session to power them to a win. 

This was a huge game for them, as it gave them the regular season series title over a team contending for a title, proving their growth even further. It helps that they overcame a loss from five short days earlier.

Williams has been put in situations often during his time in Boston and come away successful. He rarely makes significant mistakes on offense or defense. His minutes have risen in recent years, and for good measure. 

He’s the First VP of the NBPA, a voice for the players. So watching him shrink at the moment was tough. He’s surely been talked to and counseled by a lot of teammates at this point to move past it.

It is unlikely that a pair of missed free throws in a regular season game has an effect on his new contract. But he needs to shrug it off and keep moving forward. It’s a long year.