How the Mighty Have Fallen

The Recent Epic Collapse of Boston Sports

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Anthony Malcolm ‘23, Staff Writer

I am writing this on the night of May 10th, the day after the 76ers came to Boston and beat up on the Celtics to take an all important Game 5 win. If I told you a month ago that the Bruins blew a 3-1 series lead to the Florida Panthers, the Celtics needed 6 games to beat the Atlanta Hawks and are now down 3-2 to the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Boston Red Sox are the most promising team in Boston right now having won 9 of their last 11 games and are in the 2nd wild card spot, what would your reaction be? I’m guessing you would probably be a bit surprised, to say the least.

A month ago the Bruins were taking their NHL record 65 wins and 135 points into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They seemed destined to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time in over a decade. It looked as if nothing was going to stop them. The Bruins had dominated the Panthers in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, seemingly suffocating the last shimmer of hope the Panthers had after winning Game 2 on the road. The series would go back to Boston and that would be it. But as we all know, that was not it. The Panthers won an OT thriller in Game 5. But the Bruins were still up 3-2, surely they would win Game 6; Game 5 was just a fluke, right? Wrong. The Panthers won a very sloppy Game 6 on both sides. But surely this was all just luck, right? The Panthers still had to win another game in Boston. The Bruins will surely win a winner-take-all Game 7 and continue on their path to the Stanley Cup, right? Wrong. The Bruins were up 3-2 with a minute left. It seemed like the Bruins would escape this incredible, nightmarish series and put games 5 and 6 behind them. But Brandon Montour had other plans. With exactly a minute left, Brandon Montour netted his 2nd goal of the night, tying the game and giving the Panthers life. The game would, of course, go to overtime, and Carter Verhaeghe ended the Bruins’ record breaking season and potentially the Patrice Bergeron era. An epic collapse.

This isn’t exactly the first time the Bruins have collapsed on the biggest stage. Take, for example: 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Bruins Flyers, Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead and a 3 goal first period lead in Game 7. 2013 Stanley Cup Finals Game 6 down 3-2 in the series to the Blackhawks, Bruins are up 2-1 with less than 2 minutes left, Blackhawks score 2 goals in 18 seconds to win the Stanley Cup. In the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins got manhandled against the Blues in Game 7 in Boston.

The biggest thing I noticed when watching games 5, 6, and 7, was that the Bruins just didn’t have any heart, any fight, they looked like they were playing to not lose. They weren’t playing to win. They played cautious, reserved, and safe. They weren’t aggressive enough in my opinion. Another thing I will say is that I thought Ulmark was terrible. Obviously he blew Game 5 by horribly mismanaging the puck behind the net, but I just thought the goals he allowed were really soft. It’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you need your goalie to come up with some of these stops. Bobrovsky outplayed him massively. In games 5 and 6, Bobrovsky faced 81 shots while Ulmark faced 57. Ulmark allowed 10 goals while Bobrovsky only allowed 8. That’s just not good enough. The goals Bobrovsky allowed were tough. Most were either deflections, screens or just really nice shots.

The Bruins have been perennial losers ever since they won the Stanley Cup against the Canucks in 2011. They have always been a pretty good team with Stanley Cup aspirations but they always lose and they always seem to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. The Bruins front office finally addressed this issue by finally being aggressive and acquiring more talent. All of it led to this season. With Patrice Bergeron seemingly headed for retirement, with a lot of the core guys aging, combined with the fact that they were clearly the most talented team in the league, this seemed like the year to finally get the monkey off their backs and hoist the Stanley Cup. The regular season did nothing but reinforce this belief. But in typical Bruins fashion… they disappoint you and fold like a cheap suit. This felt like the last dance, but it was not meant to be. They would not get their storybook ending after all.

Now onto the Celtics.

The Celtics had a great regular season, solidifying themselves as a top 2 team in the league and potentially being the best team in the league. After losing to the Warriors last year, they looked poised to make another run to the Finals. With their only real competition being dispatched in the first round in a massive upset (Bucks), it looked as if nobody was going to stop them from making back to back trips to the finals.

But cracks are starting to show.

They had absolutely no answer for Trae Young, and the Hawks were pushing the Celtics around a bit. The Hawks looked like they wanted it more. The Celtics are fortunate that they were so much more talented and had so much more depth than the Hawks because if they weren’t, I might be writing something completely different. The Celtics dispatched the Hawks in 6, which was mildly concerning, but the job was done and with the Bucks being out of the picture, they were in a good position.

The Celtics matched up with the 76ers who they have dominated over the last handful of years in the playoffs. The 76ers were fresh off sweeping the Nets, but MVP Joel Embiid was going to be out for Game 1 after missing Game 4 against the Nets. With the Celtics having home court advantage, Game 1 was going to be in Boston. Everyone thought that this would be an easy win—no Embiid, a history of dominating the 76ers, at home, more talented team, etc. But there is one thing nobody accounted for: The Beard himself. James Harden.

In Game 1, James Harden looked like the Rockets James Harden who averaged 36 PPG and was one of the best scorers the league has ever seen. James Harden willed the 76ers to a 119-115 victory with 45 points, 17/30 from the field, 7/14 from 3 and only 4/4 from the line. The Celtics could do nothing to stop James Harden just like with Trae Young. The Celtics dominated Game 2, winning by 34 points, with Embiid returning from injury. The Celtics also took an important Game 3 win the same night Embiid claimed his MVP trophy in front of a packed house in the City of Brotherly Love. But in Game 4, James Harden yet again produced an absolute masterpiece. 16-23 from the field, 6-9 from 3, 4/4 from the line, 42 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and hitting the game winning 3 in OT. The 76ers won a crucial Game 4 to send the series back to Boston tied 2 a piece. Game 5 would be crucial. The 76ers kind of dominated Game 5. They won 115-103 which doesn’t sound that bad but the game was never really in doubt. The 76ers just looked in control. With the Celtics being down 3-2 and the series going back to Philly, it’s not looking good. We’ll see what happens the rest of the way.

Embiid has also been excellent ever since his poor comeback performance in Game 2. He’s scored 33, 34, 30 in games 5, 4 and 3, respectively, and he’s been an unstoppable force in the paint on both ends of the floor.

The Celtics have absolutely no heart. I have next to 0 confidence in them. There is no fight in them. They are a soft team with soft players and a coach that is a deer in headlights whenever things get tough. The Celtics collapse late in close games. Joe Mazzulla does nothing to change any of this. Jayson Tatum is, in my opinion, the most unclutch superstar in the NBA; Marcus Smart has a long rap sheet of single-handedly blowing close games, especially in big moments. And what does Joe Mazzulla do? He trots those 2 guys out there in every clutch situation. I also see Grant Williams on the floor way too often, especially late in close games. It feels to me like Joe Mazzulla is afraid to bench Tatum and Smart late in games.

There isn’t 1 clutch player on the Celtics. You could argue Jaylen Brown and I wouldn’t disagree to an extent, but while he’s had some great performances in high pressure games, he’s had some not so great performances in high pressure games. When the chips are down, this team will fold. Like I said, there is no fight in this team, they are soft. Joe Mazzulla doesn’t do anything to change that. I don’t trust this team at all. They are soft on defense and when people don’t hit shots, they get sloppy and start chucking the ball and make silly mistakes.

You would think the Celtics would be locked in to redeem their loss in the finals last year, but they look like they couldn’t care less. I think that starts with Tatum. Tatum doesn’t seem to care at all. Played awful in the finals last year, didn’t seem to affect him all that much. He’d rather just text Kobe’s number for social media attention. You would’ve thought he’d be looking to redeem his terrible finals performance last year. But he isn’t. He’s soft which makes the rest of the team soft. He doesn’t play with heart so the team doesn’t play with heart. When he isn’t on his game, the rest of the team probably isn’t on their game. He is a bad leader. Doesn’t take much accountability, plays soft, complains to the refs, unravels when he’s not hitting shots. He needs to be better for them to comeback in this series

I do actually believe that the Red Sox are the most promising team in Boston right now. No, I don’t think they are going to make a World Series run but they are a solid team that is playing really well right now. Can’t say that about the Celtics, and obviously the Bruins are out with some big questions to answer and plenty of uncertainty.