MIAMI — The Celtics had their souls taken on live television. They were Roberto Duran in New Orleans, taking constant jabs to the chin from Sugar Ray Leonard before walking away and giving up. The Miami Heat are the better team in the Eastern Conference finals. They have more heart. They have more desire. They have more dignity.
The Celtics never wanted to finish their unfinished business. They never truly wanted to pay that price. Despite the playoffs being laid out to their advantage, they continued to cheat the game en route to this series.
And finally, the Heat revealed all of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, not only tactically but internally. The Celtics are not the model organization in the NBA. They don’t work hard enough. They are not willing to sacrifice everything for victory. On Sunday at Kaseya Center, they looked like a bunch of green-clad frauds.
They were humiliated with their season at stake. Game 3 was nothing more than a stage for the world to see how broken the Celtics are. They played hard for about the first eight minutes, then allowed a wave of Miami runs and finally figuratively uttered “No Mas” in the third quarter.
The 128-102 loss to the Heat was their most embarrassing performance in decades, considering the circumstances, importance of the game, and stage. This series was lost in Boston, when the Celtics realized the Heat had an answer for everything.
The naming of Joe Mazzulla as the permanent coach in February is looking more like a premature decision as playoff losses and excuses mount. He’s completely clueless as to how to beat the Heat and that was evident Sunday.
“I didn’t have them ready to play, that’s on me,” Mazzulla said. “I just didn’t have them ready to play. I just didn’t execute the proper game plan. I didn’t put them in the right mentality to be ready, and it’s my job to make sure that they’re connected and that they’re ready to play, and I didn’t do that.”
Unless the Celtics make a miraculous comeback, Mazzulla may have written his own epitaph with that quote. He took the blame for his players, but there is truth to his statement. The Celtics weren’t ready for this series. They believed they were playing the Miami Heat of January, not the team that has morphed into a juggernaut.
Meanwhile, the Celtics’ two All-NBA players combined to miss 23 of 35 shots and 13 3-pointers. Jaylen Brown could become the NBA’s highest-paid player in several weeks if the Celtics decide to sign him to a maximum extension, but his performance this series has been abysmal.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Brown said. “An obvious letdown. I feel like we let our fan base, organization down, we let ourselves down, and it was collective. We could point fingers, but in reality, it was just embarrassing.”
Jayson Tatum arrived at Kaseya Center looking like Rico Tubbs from “Miami Vice” in an all-white suit, making his performance seem even more fraudulent. As usual, he got caught up in the officiating, couldn’t hit open shots, or finish at the rim.
Miami’s reserves, a group of undrafted players who have been seasoned in the Heat’s system, embarrassed the Celtics with their 3-point shooting and hustle. The Heat knew the Celtics were ready to break and the moment Miami didn’t relent in the opening minutes, the Celtics started crying.
The team’s disintegration occurred far before they arrived in Miami. It hasn’t been the same for months. Mazzulla’s stubbornness didn’t help. And management not adding to the coaching staff after the departures of Ime Udoka, Will Hardy, and Damon Stoudemire was downright negligent and absurd.
Mazzulla will never admit he needs help or that he is completely disconnected from his players. But that appears to be the case, and calling more timeouts isn’t the answer. The Celtics were exposed Sunday and there is no more saving the season.
Mazzulla was asked whether he’s lost the team, but it’s pretty obvious he has. He finally acknowledged all is not well and no scheme adjustment over the next 48 hours will fix that.
“That’s where I have to be better, figure out what this team needs to make sure that they’re connected, they’re physical, and they’re together by the time we step on the floor.”
They had to win this game and instead they played with no passion or fortitude, as if they were ready for this charade to end. The players won’t say that. Professional athletes will never publicly say they’ve quit. They’ll just show it in their actions.
The Celtics have made their point. They’re ready for a vacation. They’re ready for a break. But there’s one more game to play, one more 48-minute, nationally televised chance to embarrass themselves and the once pristine reputation of the franchise. Oh joy.
This is more than offensive spacing or trouble with zone defense or the inability to stop Jimmy Butler. This is completely mental. The Celtics quit on their coach and themselves and they’ve lost faith because they don’t believe their coach is equipped to lead them past this challenge.
“(The Heat) were coming out, they were together, they were physical, they set the tone, and we didn’t match the energy,” Brown said. “It was a complete letdown, to be frank.”
It’s time to go home now for good.
More Celtics coverage
- Dan Shaughnessy: Game 3 was a disgraceful performance by the once-proud Celtics. Even though it’s not over, don’t you want it to be?
- Instant analysis: Celtics quit in horrendous loss, and will now face their biggest challenge yet
- Celtics are on brink of elimination after epic 128-102 Game 3 loss to Miami | How it happened