Lack of focus, execution put Celtics in a must-win spot Monday night

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Forsberg: Celtics have only themselves to blame for Game 3 loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

MILWAUKEE -- The Boston Celtics' film session on Sunday morning will not be an enjoyable experience for the shamrock crew.

The Celtics squandered multiple opportunities to steal Game 3 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Milwaukee Bucks and they will kick themselves throughout a review because of how many chances they missed to take control of this series.

And what will be even more aggravating than Al Horford’s potential game-tying tip occurring a fraction of a second after the final buzzer is the multiple avoidable lapses in focus that ensured the Basketball Gods would defy them at the finish line of a 103-101 loss at Fiserv Forum.

Ime Udoka has had enough of the Celtics complaining to the referees

The Bucks lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 here on Monday.

Horford, who was brilliant throughout a game with more physicality than your typical WrestleMania, deserved a better outcome than watching his third-chance tip waved off. Jaylen Brown’s relentless fourth-quarter attacking helped Boston rally out of a 14-point hole to lead with under a minute to play.

Celtics Talk: Refs or the Celtics? Who deserves the most blame for Game 3 loss to the Bucks? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Alas, a couple of notable lapses in focus over the first three quarters, along with a squandered opportunity to put the game away in the closing moments, allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to wrestle away a win.

Jayson Tatum, Boston’s playoff MVP to this point, turned in a confounding performance. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-19 shooting over 41 minutes, 20 seconds of floor time. He was 2-for-16 on all shots away from the rim, including 0-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Grant Williams, a legitimate bench superhero throughout this postseason run, turned in a rare dud while missing seven of the nine shots he hoisted, including his first five 3-pointers.

More damning though was that both Tatum and Williams had moments where their own frustrations -- both with their play and the lack of whistles in their favor -- led to Boston playing disadvantaged defensively and the Bucks burnt them for two 3-pointers in those moments.

In a game of 100 possessions it might seem egregious to spotlight two blips. But when your superstar is enduring his most maddening offensive performance in months, there is no margin for error. Lose your focus, lose the game.

It’s a harsh reminder just how locked in your need to be on the road in the playoffs. The Celtics produced a sloppy third quarter that turned an improbable four-point halftime cushion into the 14-point hole. Seven turnovers helped the Bucks produce their first 30-plus point quarter while Boston was doubled-up 34-17 in the frame.

There will be an urge to blame the referees, most notably for not calling a three-shot foul in favor of Marcus Smart with Boston trailing by three in the final seconds. The foul was ruled on the ground, forcing Smart to intentionally miss a second free throw, which the Celtics nearly tipped home to send this game to overtime.

The Celtics didn’t play hard enough for the Basketball Gods to reward them. Boston will watch tape where it botched transition opportunities, or were too slow getting their offense started and struggled against Milwaukee’s halfcourt defense.

Obviously, I passed up some open looks that would have been best for the team. It led to some turnovers and things like that. ... I've just got to make better reads and a lot of times it was for myself today that I passed up.

Jayson Tatum on his Game 3 performance

Boston’s offensive rating of 99 wasn’t going to be good enough in a game defined by physicality and defense. The Bucks averaged 171.4 points per 100 possessions off transition plays, per Cleaning the Glass data. The Celtics, despite playing in transition for nearly 20 percent of their possessions -- a high number thanks to their defensive efforts -- produced an offensive rating of just 105.3 in transition.

Tatum had been so good this postseason at finding ways to impact the game in other ways when his shot wasn’t falling. But his stat line entering the fourth quarter was a meager 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and he oozed frustration as he routinely charged too deep into Milwaukee’s defense and struggled to make the right read in those moments.

"Today was just a one-off where I probably was thinking a little bit too much knowing that they give me a lot of attention,” said Tatum. “Obviously, I passed up some open looks that I should have -- that would have been best for the team. It lad to some turnovers and things like that. But I've just got to make better reads and a lot of times it was for myself today that I passed up.”

The Celtics, as a team, weren’t as crisp as they had been in Game 2 on Antetokounmpo. He was far more efficient on his home turf, erupting for 42 points on 16-of-30 shooting with 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Alas, he still missed a bunch of shots (especially beyond the 3-point arc) and the Bucks were outscored by 2 during his 39 minutes of floor time.

Boston had two chances in the final minute to push a one-point lead higher and couldn’t capitalize. It’s going to hurt to watch the film knowing the Celtics could easily be the team up 2-1 after that game.

Instead, they’re going to have to be laser focused on Monday night in another game that feels like a must-win situation.

"On to the next," said Brown, who was brilliant attacking the basket late and gave the Celtics a chance to steal this one. "You shake it off. It’s the playoffs. We’re still in this series. We played a lot of good basketball on their home floor. We feel great going into Game 4. We’ve just got to execute.

"I’m looking forward to playing our best basketball when our backs are against the wall. So JT had a tough night, shake it off, get ready for the next one, watch film, and continue to be aggressive. That’s what you focus on, just being aggressive every time you touch the ball and making them make a decision, making them make a call, so forth and so on. So if you be aggressive, eventually something’s going to open up. We’re too skilled, too talented and they know that over there. So we’ve just got to continue to be aggressive, that’s it."