By Kevin J. Stone/@kstone06
The loss the Boston Celtics suffered - or deserved on Thursday - has made Saturday night's Game Four bigger than it was already going to be.
That's an understatement of course, but huge doesn't even do it justice. I believe this is the most important game the Celtics have played since Brad Stevens was named the head coach in 2013.
A win the other night not only would have put the C's up 3-0 but in such an odd situation with the bubble, it probably would've made a sweep easier than its ever been.
Toronto has spent two months in the bubble, and losing on the Theis dunk off a ridiculous feed from Kemba would have been soul-crushing. Instead of having a reason to pack their bags, the Raptors now have a reason to believe.
If there's one thing about the Celtics we can say for sure, it's that they're resilient. This team has dealt with deaths in the family before playoff games. They've dealt with a plethora of Gordon Hayward injuries. They even survived (barely) the Krie Irving debacle.
Brad has shown that he can get guys into the whole "turning the page" thing, but this might be his toughest test yet. The defending champs now believe they can still hang with you. The emotional roller coaster of the final 5-10 seconds of Thursday night's game could leave plenty of mental scar tissue.
There's reason to believe this team bounces back tonight, and if they do it'll be Brad's most impressive coaching feat yet.
Coaching your team up after such a brutal loss is one thing, but Brad can't do it alone. Jaylen Brown did quite a bit of talking in his postgame press conference, and it needs to translate into action tonight.
Jaylen and Jayson Tatum - along with Kemba Walker obviously - need to show they're superstars. Kemba already is, but on a night where they have a chance to show that they're mature beyond their years on the floor, both of them need to play like actual superstars Saturday night. We know both guys are stand up human beings, but 15 points and 5 boards aren't going to be enough for either to escape scolding from this fan base.
A "face of the team" in this version of the NBA goes off for 30 if he truly wants to pull his team out of a rut following such a brutal loss. All eyes on those guys tonight.
BUTLER RUNS, GAME 7 ECF LOSS WORTHWHILE EXPERIENCES TO PULL FROM
Luckily for the C's, (unluckily?) their head coach and core have been through some heartbreak in big moments before.
Butler lost back-to-back National Title games in 2010 and 2011, which means they had to lose and make another run all over again. That's a hell of an accomplishment for a bunch of 18-21-year-olds, and Brad was at the helm for both runs. His motivational tactics aren't in question for me, it's how he coaches in those final critical moments. On Thursday night the Tacko move felt weird and it backfired.
Of course Brown, Smart, and Tatum went through the Game 7 loss to Cleveland in the ECF a few years ago as well, so they know pain after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
No one advances after this game tonight, but we will learn quite a bit of what's in store for the remainder of the Brad Stevens era. A bounce-back win in impressive fashion in the middle of this bubble situation would be Brad's best work yet.