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Heat 128, Celtics 102

How it happened: Celtics are on brink of elimination after epic 128-102 Game 3 loss to Miami

Jayson Tatum struggles to get past Gabe Vincent (left) and Caleb Martin during Game 3.Megan Briggs/Getty

MIAMI — No NBA team has won a playoff series down 0-3, and the Celtics likely won’t be the first after collapsing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday in Miami.

The Heat won, 128-102, in a contest that felt over shortly after the ball was tipped. Boston lost the lead with 5:48 to play in the first quarter and never regained it.

The star of the show was Gabe Vincent, the undrafted guard who scored 29 points — his career playoff high. He was 6-of-9 from 3. He scored more points than Jayson Tatum (14) and Jaylen Brown (12) combined.

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Inexplicably, the team that has been favored to win the NBA Finals is on the brink of elimination at the hands of Miami, which entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

At one point in the first half, Miami led by 22. Boston entered the second half down by just 15, and a comeback wasn’t out of the question. But the Celtics sunk only one of their 13 attempted threes and went 7 of 23 from the field.

The Heat won despite Jimmy Butler shooting 5 of 13 from the field and adding just 16 points. He was the Heat’s fourth-leading scorer.

With 7:20 to play in the second quarter, fans at the sold-out Kaseya Center began chanting “Let’s get the sweep!” It’s not out of the question. Boston will try to keep its season alive with Game 4 back here on Tuesday.


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Celtics-Heat: Game 3 how it happened

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‘I just didn’t have them ready to play’ — 11:40 p.m.

By Katie McInerney

Joe Mazzulla shouldered a lot of the blame after the Celtics’ Game 3 loss.

“I just didn’t have them ready to play,” he said. “I should have -- whatever it was, whether it was the starting lineup or it was an adjustment, I have to get them in a better place ready to play, and that’s on me.”

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Mazzulla was asked if he was vocal enough in the locker room.

“I don’t know,” he said. “At the time you think you say what needs to be said, but at the time I just have to be better. I’ve got to make sure when we step on that floor that we’re ready to execute, we’re ready to be physical, we’re ready to play harder than the other team. That’s my job.”

Finn’s final take — 11:35 p.m.

KM: What was going through your head when they essentially quit?

CF: I was surprised by how little pride they showed. It wasn’t just when the Heat blew them off the court and really broke any spirit they had remaining in the third quarter, either. It was telling early in the game when Jaylen Brown complained about not getting a call, jogged back, and still didn’t get back in time to prevent Max Strus from drilling a long 3. They were outhustled, outplayed, and outsmarted. They clearly have no faith in their coach, and not much faith in each other given their reluctance to move the ball. This reminded me of Kyrie Irving quitting against the Bucks in 2018, except it was a team-wide check-out. Probably the most embarrassing Celtics performance in a meaningful game that I’ve ever seen.

Reading the body language — 11:30 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

The Heat led by as many as 22 points in the second quarter, and with the Celtics appearing dazed and wobbly, there was a chance to all but finish the visitors off there. But Miami didn’t quite seize it, as Boston pulled within 15 points at halftime, a very manageable deficit. Marcus Smart then started the third quarter with the kind of play he has become known for, and the kind of play that can shift a game’s mood. He plowed into the lane, pulled down an offensive rebound and scored over two Miami players as he was fouled. Suddenly, it was 61-49, and really anyone’s game. Until it wasn’t. The Heat blitzed the Celtics with a 13-2 run that ended only when Max Strus received a technical foul for taunting. Ouch. The Celtics’ body language was horrific. They quit, and it was a stunning reaction on a stage as big as this one. By the start of the fourth quarter, with the Heat leading, 93-63, Smart was the lone remaining starter on the court, surrounded mostly by third-stringers.

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Shaughnessy: It’s not over, but don’t you want it to be? — 11:25 p.m.

By Dan Shaughnessy

A lifetime of incorrect predictions has taught me that it’s dangerous to prematurely state that any series is over. Yogi Berra was right. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

But man, oh, man. Don’t you just want this Celtics season to be over?

In another hail of turnovers, technicals, airballs, matador defenses, and nonstop complaints to the officials, the once-proud Boston Celtics were defeated yet again by the estimable, eighth-seeded Miami Heat Sunday, 128-102. Miami led by 8 after one, by 15 at the half, and stretched it to 33 midway through the third. At that point, it felt as if the Celtics had simply quit.

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Read the rest of his column here.

Where does this stand among the Celtics’ worst playoff losses? — 11:20 p.m.

While it’s not the worst loss in franchise history, it was pretty bad.

Here’s a look at the biggest losses in Celtics playoff history.

Adam Himmelsbach’s instant analysis — 11:05 p.m.

Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, Al Horford, and Jaylen Brown had nothing to smile about.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

By Adam Himmelsbach

Even after the Celtics fell behind the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals with two home losses, they remained confident upon arrival in South Florida for Game 3 at Kaseya Center. They have been very good this season when wins are essential, and they have been unbothered by road environments. They said an us-against-the-world mentality suited them.

But all of that came crashing down on Sunday night, violently and suddenly and stunningly. The eighth-seeded Heat demolished the Celtics, who just one week ago were big favorites to win an NBA title, 128-102.

Miami has now put this series, and Boston’s season, on the brink of being ended. The Celtics will look to avoid a sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday night, and in the bigger picture, they will hope to become the first NBA team ever to overcome a 3-0 deficit.

Read the rest of Himmelsbach’s observations here.

Harsh words from Magic — 11:03 p.m.

What’s the future for Joe Mazzulla? — 11:00 p.m.

Eddie House on NBC Sports Boston’s broadcast: “Damn that. Let me say this. I feel like the Celtics have quite on their coach. Call it what we really see. I feel that those guys out there don’t believe in what their coach is doing. ... I don’t believe they really believe in Joe Mazzulla.”

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It’s over — 10:49 p.m.

The star of the show was Gabe Vincent, the undrafted guard who scored 29 points — his career playoff high. He was 6-of-9 from 3. He scored more points than Jayson Tatum (14) and Jaylen Brown (12) combined.

They want Haslem — 10:45 p.m.

NY: We’ve reached the point in the game where the remaining Heat fans are chanting for Udonis Haslem to check in.

Heat 115, Celtics 88 — 10:41 p.m.

Heat 115, Celtics 88 | 3:47, fourth quarter

KT: My thoughts exactly, IT.

What a rout — 10:36 p.m.

The Heat are up, 112-83, with 4:43 to play.

NY: Remember when Marcus Smart threw a chair after the Celtics lost to the Heat in Game 2 in the bubble?

Can’t wait to see what’s in store tonight.

CF: Gabe Vincent is 6 of 9 from 3. Celtics starters went 6 for 28 ... and that includes White’s 3-for-6.

Is it time to pull the starters? — 10:29 p.m.

CF: What do we think of Mazzulla pulling the starters with a quarter left? I’m fine with it.

KT: Yeah, they’re done. Down 25 with 9 minutes remaining. Might as well focus on Game 4.

CF: THERE’S A GAME 4?

Heat 95, Celtics 70 — 10:25 p.m.

Heat 95, Celtics 70 | 9:45, fourth quarter

KT: Who was that that said they’re pulling for Boston on the TNT broadcast? This team went from title favorites to pity party real quick. Was that you, Reggie Miller?

CF: It was Reggie. Great talk show guest, atrocious analyst.

End of third quarter: Heat 93, Celtics 63 — 10:20 p.m.

Gabe Vincent leads all scorers with 18 points.

Where is Jaylen? — 10:15 p.m.

Heat 89, Celtics 60 | 1:43, third quarter

CF: Jaylen is 2 for 20 from 3 in this series. Over the last two games, he’s 13 of 40 overall.

KM: Our seats are right in front of a section of suites that definitely have the booze flowing and they are loving this.

CF: Thirty seconds into the quarter, Smart had a hustle putback plus 1 to cut the gap to 12 at 61-49. The Celtics have been outscored 30-11 since.

Heat 89, Celtics 56 — 10:09 p.m.

Heat 89, Celtics 56 | 4:44, third quarter

CF: Looking forward to seeing what Justin Champagnie can do.

And, why is Al Horford coaching this team?

CR: Jaylen Brown now 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

Heat 83, Celtics 56 — 10:02 p.m.

Heat 83, Celtics 56 | 6:41, third quarter

CF: Will Gabe Vincent make more threes than the Celtics tonight? They currently lead, 5-4.

KT: I’ve seen enough.

Heat take a 23-point lead — 9:57 p.m.

KM: Gabe Vincent sunk a three from the top of the key to put the Heat up, 74-51, and prompt Joe Mazzulla to call a timeout. We’ve got 8:59 to play in the third quarter.

NY: After that Gabe Vincent three-pointer, Jimmy Butler trolled Al Horford by kneeling down and motioning for a timeout. Looked like he stared Horford down.

KT: The Celtics are making Adebayo look like 2009 Dwight Howard tonight.

CF: 2009 Dwight Howard ended a Celtics season too.

NY: However, maybe the timeout motion from Butler is what Horford needed to see. He did say after the Atlanta series that he is the wrong person to trash talk. Currently, Horford is 2 of 5 from three. We’ll see how he finishes.

Heat 69, Celtics 51 — 9:51 p.m.

Heat 69, Celtics 51 | 9:58, third quarter

CR: Man, Jimmy Butler is cooking Derrick White in this game. Recipe for disaster with Brogdon also going ice cold so far tonight.

CF: White isn’t big enough to defend him.

And we’re off — 9:47 p.m.

CF: Miami needs to go cold. Tatum needs to go on a tear, with help from someone like Brogdon or White.

Random, but it befuddles me why they don’t post up Tatum more. Get him the ball in better spots. Not everything has to start 28 feet from the hoop.

First-half analysis — 9:37 p.m.

NY: Celtics enter the half down by 15. A comeback is not out of the question.

KT: It is if the Celtics keep playing like this ... yikes. Tatum and Brown are a combined 9-24 from the field and 1-7 from 3. Miami is getting the looks it wants inside and out, and even making a few tough ones. Malcolm Brogdon is 0-4.

CF: Jaylen started 4 of 5. He’s 1 for 8 since. Hasn’t made a 3. Dogged it back on D on that Strus 3. Took a 3 with 9 seconds left in the half. He’s got to get his head in the game.

NY: As one fan noted, it’s not as if playing with a lead has worked well for Celtics in the past, so might as well try something different.

KT: So, how do they fix this? What has to happen?

CF: Defending for 24 seconds would be a good place to start. It’s also stunning how difficult it is for the Celtics to get easy shots.

End of first half: Heat 61, Celtics 46 — 9:30 p.m.

NY: The Celtics double-team Jimmy Butler again and it leads to an airball. My guess is they will continue that strategy.

CR: Thank goodness the Celtics decided to not go with that defensive strategy at all against Butler on Game 2.

Heat 61, Celtics 44 — 9:27 p.m.

Heat 61, Celtics 44 | 1:30, second quarter

CF: They’ve got a run in them. But Spoelstra, unlike SOME COACHES. will call a T.O. if the Celtics chop off a chunk of the lead.

NY: Double-teaming Jimmy Butler leads to a Jimmy Butler turnover. Who would have thought.

KT: Your guy Cody Zeller is out here swatting shots, Conor.

NY: Cody Zeller actually just came up huge there. He blocked Derrick White’s layup, which would have cut Miami’s lead to 13. Instead, Jimmy Butler get a bank shot on the other end and draws a foul on Grant Williams (but misses the free throw).

Heat 59, Celtics 42 — 9:21 p.m.

Heat 59, Celtics 42 | 3:10, second quarter

NY: (Can’t wait to see us all pick the Celtics again for Game 4.)

KT: Sigh. So much for the Celtics won’t embarrass themselves and drop three straight rationale

NY: Finally, a Celtic (Grant Williams) decides to pick on Cody Zeller.

👀 👀 👀 — 9:20 p.m.

Heat 51, Celtics 33 — 9:16 p.m.

Heat 51, Celtics 33 | 5:56, second quarter

The Heat have their biggest lead of the night after an 8-2 run.

KT: Adebayo is dunking all over the Celtics. First a thunderous lob, then a slam on Jaylen Brown

NY: And Marcus Smart just did something really stupid, trying to draw an ill-advised defensive foul on Kyle Lowry. Instead, it was a charge. The Celtics are in the bonus, so it would have sent Smart to the line, but just not the right circumstances to try something like that.

CF: I miss watching Ime read this team the riot act.

NY: Moments later, Robert Williams bit on a Jimmy Butler pump-fake, picking up his third foul.

KT: Is there such a thing as too much love and trust?

NY: And now, Marcus Smart got T’d up.

‘Let’s get the sweep!’ — 9:11 p.m.

Heat 45, Celtics 32 | 7:20, second quarter

NY: Heat fans are starting are “Let’s get the sweep!” chant.

CR: The only thing this game is missing is a Cody Zeller dunk. Celtics just aren’t getting any stops against this team.

NY: Oh, and by the way, Jimmy Butler was not on the court as the Heat continued to build this 13-point lead.

CR: Miami is now shooting *checks notes* ... 66.7 percent from the field so far in Game 3.

CF: Heat are shooting 66.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3. Vincent, Martin, and Robinson are a combined 10 of 11. They’re hitting everything, and the Celtics D stinks.

NY: The key for the Celtics is not revert to “your turn, my turn” / hero ball. There is still plenty of time left. As Conor mentioned, the Heat are shooting at what you think would be an unsustainable rate.

Heat 34, Celtics 25 — 9:07 p.m.

Heat 34, Celtics 25 | 9:50, second quarter

NY: The return of successful backdoor cuts by Duncan Robinson!

End of first quarter: Heat 30, Celtics 22 — 9:01 p.m.

KM: Jaylen Brown (8 points) and Caleb Martin (8 points) are the leading scorers through 12.

NY: Maybe it’s just the angle of our seats, but Jimmy Butler, on multiple drives to the basket, decided to kick the ball out instead of going up for a shot. Kind of surprising to me. This postseason, Jimmy leads the league in number of first quarters with 10-plus points. Maybe he wants to get his teammates involved early — he does have three assists — but one led to a turnover.

CF: Celtics didn’t get a point from the Smart-White-Brogdon trio. Missed all five of their shots.

NY: Also, coaches just get one challenge — regardless of whether or not it’s successful.

Mazzulla uses challenge — 8:59 p.m.

NY: Joe Mazzulla is using his coach’s challenge in the first quarter in hopes that Robert Williams doesn’t pick up his third foul. Huge review coming up. If the call stands, the Heat will have the ball up 10 with 15.1 seconds to go in the first.

CR: What a complete mess.

UPDATE: The challenge was successful, so perhaps it will be a turning point for the Celtics. Now, Robert Williams has just two fouls, his basket was deemed good, and he’ll go to the line for a free throw.

CF: Like I said, definitely not a charge.

Heat 30, Celtics 20 — 8:55 p.m.

Heat 30, Celtics 20 | 31.5, first quarter

CR: Brogdon 0-3 from the field in just 4 minutes. Two missed shots from 3-point range.

NY: The home crowd is booing Grant Williams whenever he touches the ball.

CF: Brogdon needs to get it together. He’s now 0 for 4 and has forced some stuff.

Tatum back in — 8:51 p.m.

Heat 21, Celtics 16 — 8:50 p.m.

Heat 21, Celtics 16 | 4:21, first quarter

NY: Robert Williams checks in and picks up two fouls in one minute. Not great. Grant Williams subbed in for him.

CF: Does this count as double bigs? A big and a half?

KM: Max Strus’s three to put the Heat up five just lit this place up.

CR: Where were you when the Miami Heat became the Golden State Warriors? 3 straight treys from the Heat after starting 1-4 from beyond the arc.

KM: Shaughnessy is incensed that Jaylen was looking for a foul call while Strus sunk that three.

CF: So am I. Strus slowed up initially after making the long pass and still beat Jaylen by a mile for the open 3. Inexcusable.

(He did get fouled. Doesn’t matter.)

Jaylen Brown showing up — 8:45 p.m.

CR: Jaylen Brown with 5 points on 2-of-3 shooting to open the game. Just a bit better than his 1-for-7 start in Game 2.

CF: Yep. He was 3 of 12 at halftime in Game 2. What I’d like to see from him tonight is a few more assists tham turnovers. He’s basically 1-to-1 in the playoffs.

KT: Jaylen is hitting those fadeaways he was missing in Game 2. It’s making a big difference tonight.

Celtics 12, Heat 9 — 8:40 p.m.

Celtics 12, Heat 9 | 7:13, first quarter

NY: Al Horford made his first three, so the Celtics are probably hopeful more are to come.

KM: Horford was 5 of 29 (17 percent) from three over his last six games prior to tonight.

NY: Kevin Love just went back to the locker room after that Heat timeout. Caleb Martin, who scored 25 off the bench in Game 2, is set to check in. Love, the weak link against Boston’s small lineup, opened the game with two baskets.

CF: It was clear Love was hurt. Kept signaling to the bench. Celtics didn’t take advantage of it on the possession where Butler poked the ball away from Tatum.

Heat 7, Celtics 3 — 8:34 p.m.

Heat 7, Celtics 3 | 10:30, first quarter

NY: And instead, Kevin Love ends up scoring Miami’s first 5 points.

And we’re off — 8:32 p.m.

Again ... TNT always starts on time.

Lineup notes — 8:27 p.m.

NY: The Heat are sticking to their same starting lineup, even with the Celtics going small. Kevin Love only played 14 minutes in Game 2, so his playing time will likely be cut short again if the Celtics repeatedly pick on him defensively.

CR: Charles Barkley picking the Celtics to win Game 3 😬

KT: GUARANTEE

Shaughnessy: I counted out the Red Sox in 2004, so I’m not saying it’s over until it’s over for the Celtics — 8:25 p.m.

By Dan Shaughnessy

A lifetime of incorrect predictions has taught me that it’s dangerous to prematurely state that any series is over. Yogi Berra was right. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

In this spirit we look at the Boston Celtics, who came into the Eastern Conference finals heavily favored to return to the NBA Finals. The Celtics lost their first two games at home and arrived in Florida desperate to avoid going down 3-0 Sunday.

History is not the Celtics’ friend — even for a franchise steeped in history. Boston is 0-5 lifetime when trailing a conference final, 2-0. And 3-0 makes things virtually impossible. No team in NBA annals has won any series after trailing, 3-0. That covers 149 series over the last eight decades. The LeBron James Lakers at this moment face that insurmountable hurdle in their conference final vs. Denver. The Lakers are unlikely to be the first.

There’s the hedge . . . “unlikely.’’

There was much hysteria and resignation in my Globe inbox and over social media after the Celtics blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 2 on Causeway Friday.

But I find myself reluctant to say it’s over. I don’t trust the Celtics when they are good and I don’t trust them when they are bad.

Read the full column here.

Predictions for tonight — 8:20 p.m.

CF: Celtics win, presuming some reasonable developments occur: The Heat cool off from 3, Joe Mazzulla doesn’t forget to use Derrick White, Tatum and Brown have normal games for once, and Rob Williams gets the brunt of the single big minutes if Al Horford continues to struggle early. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.

NY: I’ll probably keep picking the Celtics until they lose. Their backs are up against the wall, which is when they’ve played their best basketball.

KT: Celtics win. They’ve played better on the road than at TD Garden this postseason. They have a bad habit of not showing up until their backs are against the wall, but have somehow won the must-win games. Tonight should be the same.

CR: Feels like the Celtics give us little reason to have faith in them. Still, I can’t see Boston dropping a third straight game. Beyond some expected adjustment, it seems inevitable that the shooting totals in this series are going to balance out for both teams. Miami isn’t going to keep shooting 43.9% from 3, nor are the Celtics going to shoot 31% from beyond the arc.

What it looks like inside Kayesa Arena — 8:05 p.m.

We’ve got a late-arriving crowd here in South Florida.

Interestingly enough, the Heat outdraw the Celtics. Miami ranked fifth in average attendance this season, and Boston ranked ninth.

The Celtics drew the second-most fans while on the road, beat out only by the Warriors, so expect to see plenty of green sprinkled in the stands ... eventually.

A late arriving crowd for Game 3.Katie McInerney

What to make of Jayson Tatum’s substitutions — 7:50 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

Rotations are never set in stone, but it feels as if Jayson Tatum’s substitution patterns have shifted almost nightly during the playoffs. During the regular season, he most often sat for the final few minutes of the first and third quarters, and played the entire second and fourth. Or, he would play the entire first quarter and sit the start of the second, and then the entire third quarter and sit the start of the fourth.

In Game 2, Tatum played the entire first quarter and then returned to start the second. Then he played the entire third and returned to start the fourth. It didn’t work.

During his 3:11 break early in the second quarter, the Celtics’ 11-point lead was wiped away.

His second break came with 8:47 left in the fourth and Boston leading, 91-84. He appeared a bit fatigued on a couple of preceding plays, so maybe he needed a quick breather, but it felt odd for him to be on the bench as the game approached crunch time. In this case, the Celtics at least played the Heat even without him.

Which Celtics player needs to step up tonight? — 7:35 p.m.

CF: More than anyone else, Jaylen. He was, to be kind, a disaster in Game 2. (Imagine what adjectives we’d use for an unkind analysis.) He jacked up 23 shots, three more than Tatum, and made seven, or three fewer than JT. And he doesn’t do much to help when he’s not scoring. (He has one more assist than turnover in the playoffs.) Given that he’s often a fast starter, we should know early whether he has it.

KT: Jaylen Brown has to step up tonight. He’s 2-13 from 3-pt. range this series, which is quite unlike him. His shot selection has also been questionable, as he’s been settling for fadeaway jumpers off of one-on-one matchups. The Celtics are at their best when they’re raining threes. Brown and “Elite shooter” Al Horford have to knock a few down tonight.

NY: You could make a case for basically everybody in the rotation. The player I’ll be watching is Al Horford, who is in a major shooting slump — 5 of 29 (17 percent) from three over his last six games. If Horford continues to struggle, then Joe Mazzulla may want to reconsider playing him 30 minutes per game. Grant Williams or Rob Williams could play more instead.

CR: There’s no shortage of options here, especially in Boston’s starting lineup. I think the Celtics desperately need a bounceback game from Jaylen Brown. Through two games, he’s averaging 19 points while shooting .386 from the field and .154 from 3-point range. Add in his turnovers and defensive lapses and Brown’s struggles have played a major role in Boston’s 0-2 deficit.

What do you guys think? — 7:20 p.m.

CF: Everything with Butler is a troll. It’s his fuel. What I really want to know is who Tkachuk is honestly rooting for, given he was classmates with Tatum in St. Louis from seventh to ninth grade. Don’t think Florida would like the answer.

NY: Maybe a combo?

KT: Jimmy is just supporting the Panthers. He’s not thinking about y’all, Bruins fans.

CR: I’ll go with Butler just repping a fellow South Florida team. Now, if we spot Butler sinking jump shots in a Grant Williams jersey? That’s an A+ troll job.

Is Jimmy Butler just a supportive Miamian, or an exquisite troll? — 7:10 p.m.

Either Jimmy Butler is just a good neighbor, or he’s an exquisite troll.

Butler wore a Florida Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk jersey during a gym session a few days ago. On one hand, it feels like it’s just real recognizing real.

Tkachuk scored the game winner in the Panthers’ epic four-overtime Eastern Conference final opener against the Hurricanes on Thursday, then did it again (took just one overtime this go around) last night to put Florida up 2-0. Tkachuk is the Panthers’ equivalent of Jimmy Butler, so it’s no surprise Butler would show love.

That said … Tkachuk was an absolute pest while helping Florida get past the Bruins in the first round a few weeks ago. He scrapped with Linus Ullmark, he chirped plenty of players, and he scored five goals en route to ending the Bruins’ dream season.

Butler is public enemy No. 1 in Boston right now, the same way Tkachuk was during that series. Even if he’s not trolling, the fit won’t get him any new fans in Boston. You do have to respect it, though.

Joe Mazzulla says Derrick White will start — 7:03 p.m.

Joe Mazzulla is abandoning the double-big starting lineup, returning to the small unit with Derrick White instead of Robert Williams. White also started the second half of Game 2.

Himmelsbach: Derrick White needs to start over Rob Williams in Game 3 — 6:55 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla helped swing the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the 76ers in Boston’s favor by putting center Robert Williams back in the starting lineup in Game 6 in place of Derrick White. Williams gave the Celtics another body to throw at league MVP Joel Embiid, and P.J. Tucker’s limitations allowed Williams to act more as a roamer on defense.

Mazzulla has stuck with the same group against the Heat in the conference finals, but it has not gone well. In 14 minutes together, the double-big pairing of Williams and Al Horford has been outscored by 51.6 points per 100 possessions. Yes, that’s an extremely small sample size, but the Heat simply pose different challenges.

Jimmy Butler has actively sought out matchups with Williams in space, and Horford has struggled to contain center Bam Adebayo. Mazzulla seemed to have some reluctance about the double-big group after Game 1. When he was asked about it, he paused for about two seconds before answering.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Like I said, I thought each lineup presented things that did well.”

Then the Horford/Williams pairing returned at the start of Game 2 and lasted less than five minutes, as the Heat took a 4-point lead. The two never shared the court again.

White, an All-Defensive team selection, blocked two of Butler’s shots in Game 2 and continues to be a force from beyond the arc. He’s made 6 of 10 3-pointers in this series and the Celtics have a plus-9.0 rating with him on the court. Malcolm Brogdon is the only other Celtic with a positive rating in the series.

But White hasn’t played more than 23 minutes in any of the last four games. It’s time for him to reenter the starting lineup in Game 3.

Finn: It’s not over, but there’s not much reason to still have faith in the Celtics — 6:40 p.m.

By Chad Finn

Before tipoff of the Eastern Conference finals, ESPN Analytics tweeted that the Celtics had a 97 percent chance of defeating the Heat in the series.

Whatever their data-based rationale, giving the flawed but fearless Heat a 3 percent chance of prevailing over a Celtics team with a habit of drop-kicking prosperity seemed absurd and disrespectful at the time. Any roster with Jimmy Butler on it and Erik Spoelstra coaching it has more than a 3 percent chance of achieving just about anything.

Now? That projection feels like a punch line, a painful wallop-packing truth about the differences between what the Celtics could be and what they are. That punch line will sting the Celtics into the fast-approaching offseason if they don’t get their act together immediately.

Read Finn’s full column here.


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeChadFinn. Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her @nicolecyang. Khari Thompson can be reached at khari.thompson@globe.com. Conor Ryan can be reached at conor.ryan@globe.com. Katie McInerney can be reached at katie.mcinerney@globe.com. Follow her @k8tmac.