What Happened on This Crucial Possession for the Celtics???

Down one with 11 seconds to go, the ball found its way into the hands of Marcus Smart. One masterful defensive play later, the Celtics’ chances of winning the game took a drastic hit. Several things went wrong during the course of the fourth quarter, which ultimately led to Boston’s downfall, but the mystery of this possession adds an element of intrigue that other errors lack. The big question is, why did the ball go to Marcus Smart?

At first, it appeared as though the final play may have been drawn up for Smart. There was no other action happening. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford weren’t moving or calling for the ball as Smart drove to his ultimate doom on this play. On the surface of it, drawing up a play for Smart to take Pat Connaughton one-on-one isn’t the worst play I’ve ever heard of, though certainly not the best. Smart had the lane and if Holiday wasn’t in a position to help, maybe he makes that layup. However, the situation was made more perplexing when Smart said Tatum was supposed to get the ball on this possession.

Tatum backed up Smart’s comments, saying he was supposed to get the ball. When pressed on who was responsible for the miscommunication, Tatum brushed off the question.

This may lead some to believe that miscommunication was between Smart and Tatum, but that would be incorrect based on what I can decipher. This is mostly speculative based on video evidence and the quotes the Celtics have given on the play, but that miscommunication appears to have come with Al Horford. When looking at the first few seconds of the final play, Horford doesn’t move. It’s almost as if he didn’t even realize the play was happening or that the ball was being inbounded yet. He stands with his hands on his knees until Marcus Smart points towards him as if to tell him to go do what he was told to do in the huddle: screen for Tatum. If you look closely, you can even see Horford’s head jolt up to look at Derrick White and realize the play’s already happening.

Smart and Horford both throw their hands up in confusion after the play was over. Smart likely wondering why Horford didn’t screen for Tatum earlier. Horford likely wondering why he didn’t realize the ball was being inbounded. Horford’s delayed reaction lasted about 2.5 seconds, but that was enough for Derrick White to give up on the action and look for another option to inbound to. This does not excuse Marcus Smart’s actions of taking it himself. If he had the mindset of looking for a teammate on this play, Jaylen Brown would’ve been open for a layup on a dump-off pass after Jrue Holiday came down to help on Smart. Bobby Portis was in help position as well, but Brown would’ve had a better chance than Smart at finishing at the rim.

Smart missing Tatum wide open on the very last possession was an equally crucial mistake, but what made this play fall apart was not Smart driving to the basket. It was Horford failing to screen for Tatum quickly enough. An explanation for Horford’s confusion would be even more speculative than this already is, but I have a guess. It looks like Horford was staring in the direction of Smart who was having a conversation with the other referee while the ball was being given to Derrick White on the inbound. Perhaps Horford assumed since Smart was talking to the ref that the play wasn’t happening yet. That, or he just zoned out for a minute. Who knows, either way, that screen didn’t happen quickly enough for Jayson Tatum to come off it, get to the top of the key, and for Derrick White to make sure he was open all before a 5-second violation would’ve occured.

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