It’s tempting to say the Celtics played like dogs in their 113-101 loss to the Bucks in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday night. But that’s really not fair. Dogs will chase a loose ball. Dogs generally enjoy playing together. Dogs aim to please.
These Celtics — individualistic, full of themselves, operating with their own interests in mind — didn’t play like dogs. They were more like cats. Now cats, they’re uncoachable, man.
All right, maybe we’re still too annoyed for animal-related levity around here, other than acknowledging that the deer indeed should have been feared.
The Bucks, the NBA’s only 60-win team this year, may not have better overall talent than the Celtics, at least based on reputation and past accomplishment. But they have the best basketball player on Earth and at least several other planets in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they have a half-dozen other very good players who — get this — seem to enjoy playing together, and playing off their immensely likable (if habitually traveling) superstar.
Remember when Giannis happily overdrafted Khris Middleton when he was choosing his All-Star roster? Somehow I can’t imagine Kyrie Irving doing that for a teammate. Antetokounmpo and friends are the anti-Celtics, and they deserve to win this series.
Sure looks like they will, too. The Celtics have one game left in this uneven and disappointing season, maybe two, but only three or more by something approaching a miracle.
It would be just like them to win in Milwaukee (where the Bucks are 36-9) on Wednesday, give us some false hope that a comeback is possible and now they’re going to live up to their early billing, then come home and brick their way into the offseason in Game 6 while no one on the court makes eye contact with each other.
This might be the most annoying good Celtics team I’ve ever seen. It won’t be long before we’re saying that in the past tense, the season ending two rounds shy of where we once reasonably hoped it would go.
Since there’s not much of a reason to refer to them as a team right now, here are a couple of thoughts on some individuals.
■ Kyrie Irving: Right now, watching him is like having a miniature Kobe Bryant as the star of the team. Genuinely awesome when he’s on, which is most of the time. Immensely unlikable when he is not. And having done nothing to make Jayson Tatum better.
Irving is too quick to flip to the I-guess-I’ve-got-to-do-this-myself mode, and it becomes the how-am-I-supposed-to-do-anything-with-these-chumps mode when things really go wrong. After shooting 7 for 22 in Game 4 — bringing him to 19 for 61 over the last three games — he said he should have taken 30 shots because “I’m that great of a shooter.’’
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) May 7, 2019
Now, he is a great shooter, and maybe the best finisher in traffic for a smaller player there has ever been. But on a team that shared the ball expertly without him last year, tellingly did it again in his absences this year, and yet turns into a bunch of I’ll-get-mine-now gunners every time they build any kind of a big lead, saying he needs to shoot more during his worst stretch as a Celtic is about the worst thing he can say.
He has no idea how to lead. I don’t believe he has any interest. He just wants the credit.
I’ve mostly enjoyed watching him as a Celtic. But he carries himself like a player who has never felt like he should be coached. If he actually were the smartest guy in the room, he’d recognize that he’s no savior or martyr, but a huge part of the problem. I wouldn’t bank on him finding that level of awareness before tip-off Wednesday.
I hope he stays with the Celtics and somehow matures, though I suspect his decision to bolt came right around the time we stopped seeing that Nike ad with his dad. Right now, I’m preparing to hear him passive-aggressively whine about Knicks teammate Zion Williamson a year from now.
■ Gordon Hayward: We realized pretty early in the season that his return to form from his severe leg injury wasn’t going to be linear. But what we’re seeing now is as stunning as it is disappointing.
Hayward has gone 4 for 18 for 17 points — nope, not in Game 4, but over the last three games combined.
His dismal performance comes after an excellent four-game series against the Pacers that included a 7-for-9 shooting performance in the clinching Game 4 and the sense that Utah Gordon Hayward might be back for good.
Now he’s getting outplayed by Pat Connaughton, and Cedric Maxwell is offering harsh truths like this on the radio broadcast: “If Gordon Hayward doesn’t want to shoot the ball, take him out.’’
■ Al Horford: Horford is usually the reliable, even-keeled adult in the room and on the court, but even he caved in to the collective lethargy Tuesday night.
The Bucks scored 66 points in the paint, and it seemed like about 20 of them came via uncontested layups on which Horford was a bystander. Of course, sometimes he was a bystander after one of the inexplicable switches on which Irving picked up Giannis, directed the teammate that was supposed to have Giannis somewhere else, got toasted by Giannis, and then looked disapprovingly at the teammate he was just bossing around.
That’s my way of saying I wish Horford would stand up to Irving, tell him to just stop George Hill once or twice before trying his hand at half-heartedly guarding a player a foot taller.
Then again, that’s Brad Stevens’s job, too. We’ll get into him once this beautiful disaster of a season is over. I’ve got Wednesday as the date of expiration.