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Dan Shaughnessy

After a stunning loss to the Sixers at home in Game 5, the Celtics are on the brink of becoming an epic failure

Jayson Tatum (left) and Jaylen Brown combined for 60 points and a minus-41 in Game 5.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Perhaps the piece de resistance was Jaylen Brown (3 for 8 from the free throw line) going to the line for two free throws — when the Celtics seemed to be rallying — and missing both with 9:16 left and the Celtics trailing by 14.

Beyond weak. And these guys want you to think they are elite?

What have they won?


They care about All-NBA and Subway sandwiches and social media love. But while playing for an organization that expects clutch plays and championships, they have done little to indicate they are anything more than posers.

There is still time for the 2022-23 Celtics to redeem themselves. It’s time for the two Jays (Jayson Tatum and Brown) to step up. This is supposed to be their time, but now they are on the threshold of an epic fail.


These Celtics could be like the 2004 Red Sox and pull off a miraculous comeback when all seems lost. They could win Thursday night in Philly, then come back to win again here Sunday, advance to the conference finals and eventually win banner 18 against the Nuggets, Suns, Lakers or Warriors.

But that feels far away after Tuesday’s 115-103 dismal Game 5 Garden loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics were outrebounded, 49-36, on their home floor.

The ever-front-runner Celtics, always wildly supported by loyal Green Teamers, trail this series, 3-2, and are on the brink of elimination.

Disappointed Celtics fans head for the exits with five minutes left in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

How is this possible? We all keep saying that Boston is the best team still playing in the NBA tournament. The Celtics have more good players than anyone left standing. They are (were) Vegas favorites to win the title. They got to the Finals last year, led, 2-1 before failing and Brad Stevens added Malcolm Brogdon to an already talented mix.


But now there is trouble on Causeway Street. And we are suddenly afraid that the Celts might be infected with the poison that blew up the Bruins, who checked out in round one of the NHL playoffs after the greatest regular season in league history.

Seriously. Is this happening again? Is Boston doomed to another awful upset?

“This was the first game of the playoffs that we didn’t play well,’’ Celtic rookie coach Joe Mazzulla said. “It doesn’t come necessarily at the best time. I thought our intentions were good. We just have to regroup. I don’t think it was effort. I didn’t think we got off to a good start . . . I think we had the right intentions to play as hard as we could.’’

But they did not.

Tatum again was a first quarter no-show and Philly bolted to a 33-26 lead at the end of one. Tatum was 0 for 5 and the hungry Sixers had five offensive rebounds in the quarter. In the words of the inimitable Bill Belichick, “Not what we were looking for.’’

It got worse early in the second as Philly bolted to a 42-27 lead after a Tatum turnover. Fans booed when Mazzulla called time out with 10:20 left in the half. Is that irony?

Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics have been pushed to the brink of elimination in the wake of Tuesday's loss.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Tatum (36 points, but 3 for 11 on threes) recovered and the Celtics were able to cut the margin to 58-49 at halftime. MVP Joel Embiid had 21 at intermission, including an impressive 9 for 9 on free throws.


Led by flossy Tyrese Maxey (30 points) the Sixers pushed their lead back to 15 early in the third. Meawhile, Al Horford was 0 for 7 (all 3-pointers) and went for the doughnut in 25 minutes.

The fourth quarter was a disaster. Mazzulla cleared his bench with 3:55 to play and the Celtics down by 21. There was some booing from the loyalists. It’s not good that this came on the heels of Sunday’s demoralizing overtime loss in Philly when Mazzulla froze and didn’t call time out.

Any carryover from Sunday’s bad juju, Joe?

“Maybe, a little bit,’’ said Mazzula. “The ups and downs of a playoff series can have that effect on them and it could have.

“I thought we had intentions of really wanting to win and sometimes that has a negative effect . . . There’s no level of regret. Pressure is pressure. This is the situation we’re in.’’


Just a few short hours after the Bruins impotent, season-ending presser, we could only worry and wonder: Was this possibly the last Garden game of the spring of 2023?

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.