Danny Ainge didn’t hold back in his assessment of the Celtics following 117-114 loss to the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Kemba hasn’t played well, I think he would be the first one to admit that,” Ainge explained in the Wednesday morning interview. “I think the defense and the opponents that we’re playing have something to do with it. I think that when they make it really hard on guys — and I’ve experienced this myself, I’ve seen players much better than myself experience it — they make it really hard on you, and then when you do get that open one it’s just more difficult.
“He’s got to figure it out, and I’m confident that he will,” Ainge concluded.
It was a familiar pattern in the interview for the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, who didn’t hold back in his postgame analysis, yet maintained confidence that Boston’s players will turn it around.
“It looked like we fatigued, it looked like we were trying to use [the] clock,” said Ainge. “When we had a 14-point lead we put it in slowed down motion. That’s always just hard to change momentum. The team that’s down 14 is trying to speed the game up and the team that’s up 14 is trying to slow the game down. And it’s always a danger. I’ve seen it throughout this playoffs, and playoffs of the past. It’s a danger of when to slow the game down, and knowing when to do it and when not to.”
The Celtics held a 12-point lead heading into the final quarter, but couldn’t hold on.
“Miami did a much better job,” Ainge admitted. “They got us into the penalty with seven-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter and I knew we were in trouble at that point. They were much more the aggressors. And it’s dangerous when you have good offensive players like Kemba and Jayson, to just try to get a matchup and have them exploit that matchup. A lot of teams do that, and Miami did a better job of maintaining pace than we did.
Ainge was asked if he thought that the team’s ball movement was hurt by having primary scorers who are less experienced in major playoff series.
“Yeah, I think that that’s exactly right,” replied the longtime Celtics’ executive. “You know I just think that we have good enough players [elsewhere]. I mean Jayson didn’t really get a touch other than the tip-in late, he wasn’t involved in the game at all. Our bigs didn’t do anything or get any opportunities with the defenses that they had switching. We weren’t trying to exploit match-ups, but I think those are things we figure out. You figure as you watch film after a tough loss like this.
Looking ahead to Game 2 on Thursday at 7 p.m., Ainge focused on something he noticed the Heat having success with in Game 1.
“We can’t give up transition lay-ins,” Ainge said. “I think we gave up eight transition lay-ins. That just kills you. But they’re good at it, so it’s easier said than done, but we can’t give up those.”
He also called for more players to be utilized as scorers.
“I think we’ve got to get more people involved in the offense,” Ainge noted. “I think Jaylen Brown has a lot to offer this group, and we just forgot about him and didn’t really do anything to exploit his advantages. We’ve got to continue moving the ball, we’ve got to continue to not just pound the ball so early. We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas when we have a lead, like I said it’s easy to do when you’re playing from behind.”
Looking at basketball in its modern form, Ainge knows Boston can’t become too comfortable even with a double-digit lead.
To illustrate his point, he cited the Clippers — who fell to the Nuggets in Tuesday’s Game 7 despite having once possessed a 3-1 series lead — as an example.
“They had 19, 16, and 14-point leads in these games and [when] the game slows down, it’s hard to regain the momentum when you lose it,” Ainge explained. “And as we know, we live in an era where there are so many 3-point shots taken, the variance of scoring is so dramatic that 20-point leads don’t mean that much, 14-point leads, that’s nothing in today’s game. That’s like six-point leads in my era just because of the kind of shots that are taken and the way that game’s played.”
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