As the final whistle signaled the end of Game 5, so too ended the season of the most disappointing team in the NBA. The 2019 Boston Celtics went out with a whimper, losing their last game 116-91 and the series 4-1. As Dennis Green yelled at a bemused group of reporters all those years ago, they are who we thought they were. While their season came to a close, the Celtics continued to sulk when they missed shots, coasted regularly on defense, and when the going got tough, they folded. As they did throughout their season. Ultimately, it falls on one man: Brad Stevens.
Admitting he did a ‘bad job’ was one of the first sentiments Stevens expressed during his post-game press conference. As the Van Gundy brothers are fond of saying, it’s a player’s league when teams win, and a coach’s league when teams lose. Part of the head coach gig is taking the blame when things go south, fair or otherwise. This year, it’s pretty warranted. Stevens cannot be blamed for Kyrie Irving shooting 30% from the field over the last four games, a slump that played a big part in ending the season. But Stevens can be blamed for the fundamental issues deep at the heart of his team’s struggles throughout the season.
He gave 30 minutes a night to Gordon Hayward, despite it being painfully clear he wasn’t ready to return early on. Yes, the team is playing the long game with Hayward, but it’s tough to justify playing him in the playoffs when he scored 24 points total in four losses to Milwaukee. Stevens liked his team to play through big runs by the opposition, which would lead to massive blown leads in the fourth quarter and demoralizing losses. It’s up to a coach to get the best out of his players, and he couldn’t do that with Terry Rozier, who was clearly impacted by his bench role despite showing flashes of the ability that made him a star last postseason. Jayson Tatum needed to be firmly told to stop taking pull-up midrange jumpers with 20 seconds on the shot clock from day one, and he was still jacking them up in May. Stevens needed to steady the locker room and help Irving with his leadership struggles; while we’ll likely never know how much he did in that regard, it’s clear those issues were not solved and carried over into the postseason.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, and it’s very easy to sit here and say Stevens should have fixed these things. But the locker room chemistry issues and the lack of togetherness, the lack of teamwork, was obvious all year long. Yet, this year’s Celtics are not disappointing because they lost to the Bucks. The Bucks are a damn good team, and anyone who argues otherwise hasn’t watched them play basketball for a single minute this year. It’s how they lost, a pathetic attempt at competitiveness that manifested into pouting when shots didn’t fall and calls didn’t go their way. It was painfully obvious this team played for themselves, not for the success of their teammates or the jerseys on their backs.
The coach is the one who brings it all together behind the scenes, to inspire everyone to play for the guy next to him, not for the dollar figure on his next contract or national recognition as “The Man.” Stevens couldn’t do that, and it resulted in a disastrous season that may have seriously altered the future of the Boston Celtics.