Can Boston Celtics' unfathomable loss to Cavs fuel them against Nuggets?

Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics
Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

The Boston Celtics lost one of the most bizarre basketball games of the 2023-24 NBA season when they blew the biggest fourth-quarter lead in franchise history against a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers team on March 5 in The Land.

Missing an All-Star in Donovan Mitchell and another starter in Max Strus, the Cavs looked like an undermanned unit for the first three quarters. Midway through the third period, they even lost Evan Mobley to a nasty ankle injury that forced him out for the remainder of the game. 

Then came the fourth quarter. When chaos ensued.

Up 93-71 with just under nine minutes to go, the Celtics blew a 22-point lead to the tune of a ridiculous 34-13 Cleveland run. During that stretch, the Cavs averaged 3.8 points per minute of game time while the Cs averaged an ice-cold 1.4 points per minute.

It took a perfect storm to finally upend Boston Celtics

While the Cavs deserve high praise for their 105-104 victory, the Celtics faced a perfect storm of red-hot Cavs shooting and not-so-hot C’s shooting. Just two days after they demolished the Golden State Warriors with 25 threes on a 51% clip, the fourth-quarter Celtics couldn’t hit water if they were aiming for the ocean.

In truly shocking fashion, the Celtics did not hit a single jump shot in the fourth. Meanwhile, Cleveland shot 8/11 from the 3-point line in the quarter. Unexpected hero Dean Wade came off the Cavs bench to lead the inspired comeback with a career-high 23 points on 6/9 shooting from distance.

The Celtics will have a day of rest to prepare for their upcoming marquee matchup with the defending champion Denver Nuggets. Their crazy Cavs collapse could provide extra motivation for a bounce-back win.

Boston has suffered back-to-back losses once this season -- all the way back in November if you can remember -- and the league’s top-ranked team has responded to some of its more memorable defeats with impressive win streaks.

In his postgame interview with NBC Sports Boston, Kristaps Porzingis said the loss was good for the team.

"Good loss for us … It’s healthy for us. We do have the feeling we’re pretty much going to win every game, we’re invincible… A little bit of that feeling is always there. It may be healthy, but it’s also healthy to get a loss here and there."

Kristaps Porzingis

The best teams in basketball often learn more from losses than wins, and head coach Joe Mazzulla has reiterated that belief in his interviews all season long. In January, Mazzulla gave an insightful take on an ugly loss the Celtics had recently suffered to the Los Angeles Clippers.

"Sometimes, if you win a game that you don't think you deserve to win, it takes away from the lesson that you need to learn. Sometimes, you lose a game you deserve to win. At the end of the day, it’s all about just taking the information and applying it to the next game."

Head coach Joe Mazzulla

Given the Celtics are on pace for the No. 1 offensive rating in basketball history and the third-most 3-pointers of all time, 49 second-half points and five second-half 3-pointers almost seems unreal. Almost as unreal as the loss itself.

MVP candidate Jayson Tatum began the game scalding hot with 22 points on 7/9 shooting in the first half, but the second half was a much different story for the five-time All-Star. In a wild turn of events, Tatum shot an abominable 1/11 from the field over the last two quarters. The other four Cs starters combined for 23/52 shooting on the night with only six combined free throw attempts.

Simply put, the Celtics let their guard down and paid the price. Getting too comfortable can be your own worst enemy in the NBA. As Jaylen Brown told Jared Weiss after the loss, “that’s what happens when you don’t match the gas.”

Like many Celtics fans, Tatum can’t wait for his team to respond against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets and hopefully bounce back with a much more on-brand performance. In his postgame presser, he shared his excitement for Boston’s next outing.

"Just hope to bounce back from tonight … didn’t necessarily play like ourselves in that second half. This year, we’ve done a really good job of responding. I like forward to us responding and playing better on Thursday."

Jayson Tatum

With all eyes on Round 2 of Denver vs. Boston, the C’s will look to get revenge on national TV for the tough loss Denver handed them back in January. Boston fresh off of a loss has become one of the most formidable groups in all of basketball. Fans will have to wait and see if the 48-13 Celtics can stay undefeated following a loss this season.

In a potential NBA Finals preview, the Celtics should come out with incredible urgency for one of their most important games of the year. With their 11-game win streak finally broken, the Celtics can use their latest loss as fuel. 

Time for a new streak.