The Boston Celtics edged out the Portland Trail Blazers 116-115 at Moda Center on Tuesday, claiming their fourth straight win and surpassing the Miami Heat to rank No. 5 in the Eastern Conference.
It was a close competition on the floor as the two sides kept exchanging leads especially in the second half. When Jayson Tatum buried a triple to extend the lead to four (116-112) for the Celtics, he likely thought the game was over since there were less than seven seconds left.
Then it took Norman Powell only a bit more than one second to drain a 3-pointer, after which the Trail Blazers only trailed by one. The team fouled Marcus Smart, who averaged 79.5 percent at the free throw line so far this season. Smart missed the first shot. There were 3.5 seconds left. Damian Lillard was 2-4 in triples for the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter.
What's the safest solution in this situation for the Celtics?
Smart chose to target the glass with his second shot. It would kill time and allow the ball to bounce off the rim. Besides, the Trail Blazers had no timeouts left. 3.5 seconds might be long enough for them to launch an offense from their own baseline and bet on Lillard for the last shot, but not enough for bouncing and rebounding added.
That's how the Celtics won on Tuesday night after making a lot of confusing mistakes.
Coach Brad Stevens made 2.03-meter Robert Williams the starting center for the Celtics. Usually it's a sign of the team choosing to go aggressive on defense and that move has proved effective in limiting Lillard.
Then for over two quarters, the Celtics did not double team Lillard or C.J. McCollum every time after they called screen. In fact, almost every Blazer could acquire an opportunity for an open three via a screen of their big men. If they had shot better than 9-21 from downtown in the first half, they could have won the game.
To be fair, Williams should not be held completely responsible for these ridiculous defensive choices because he would be substituted after two minutes at the beginning of every of the first three quarters.
Coach Stevens for sure has his own thinking about this. It makes sense to replace Williams with someone else if he is not doing his job on the floor. But is it really necessary to repeat the process three times? At least in Tuesday's game, Tristan Thompson turned out to be the better defensive choice for the Celtics.
There was also the use of Tatum. It's no secret that the Celtics lack ball movement on their offense and rely on isolation of their two swingmen, Tatum and Jaylen Brown. However, Tatum barely touched the ball in the first half during which he was only 2-5. If he had not exploded to score 25 points in the second half, the Celtics could have left Portland with a loss.
Tuesday's loss was more painful for Lillard than to his teammates because it happened right at the night when he matched Jason Kidd in making the 10th most 3-pointers (1,988) in NBA history.
Other games on Tuesday (away teams come first):
Brooklyn Nets 127-97 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 126-115 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 108-103 Toronto Raptors
Los Angeles Lakers 101-93 Charlotte Hornets
Oklahoma City Thunder 96-106 Utah Jazz
Miami Heat 86-106 Phoenix Suns