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When the Celtics can’t hit from three, they barely stand a chance — and that’s exactly what happened in Miami

Marcus Smart missed all three of his 3-point attempts on Sunday night against Miami, joining both Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon in failing to hit from distance.Megan Briggs/Getty

MIAMI — When Jayson Tatum and Al Horford made their first 3-pointers Sunday, the baskets had the potential to be a shift in the right direction for the Celtics. What followed instead was more of the same: missed three after missed three.

One of the key aspects of Boston’s offensive identity has been neutralized in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. The Celtics can’t buy a bucket from behind the arc, making just 29.2 percent of their 3-point attempts this series.

In Sunday’s Game 3 loss at the Kaseya Center, the Celtics made just 6 of their 29 shots from range (20.7 percent) before coach Joe Mazzulla pulled his starters. At that point, Tatum was 1 of 7, Horford was 2 of 5, Jaylen Brown was 0 of 7, and Malcolm Brogdon was 0 of 3.


“I mean, we had some good looks,” said guard Derrick White, who made 3 of his 6 attempts. “We just didn’t make them. We just got to be more consistent with everything we do.”

Boston’s offense is extremely reliant on the success of its 3-point shooting.

Grant Williams and the Celtics were 11 for 42 on three-point attempts Sunday night.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

When the Celtics make at least 40 percent of their threes this year, including playoffs, they are 34-2. When they don’t, they are 30-30. When the three is not falling, the Celtics become an average team. It is difficult for them to find alternative ways of scoring.

The Celtics finished the regular season with the sixth-best 3-point percentage (37.7) in the league. They also averaged the second-most 3-point attempts per game (42.6), behind only Golden State.

Against Atlanta, the Celtics shot 40.6 percent from three. Against Philadelphia, they shot 38.6 percent. But against Miami, the Celtics cannot establish a rhythm from three, which affects their spacing, pace of play, and ball movement.

Tatum, a career 37.5 percent shooter from three, has made just 5 of 20 (25 percent) this series. Brown is 2 of 20 (10 percent). Since his exchange with a reporter over his status as an elite shooter, Horford has made just 7 of his 34 (20.5 percent) attempts from deep.


Down, 0-3, the Celtics have plenty to address if they want to extend their season beyond Tuesday’s Game 4. But they’d certainly hope to rectify one of their most-trusted indicators of the final outcome.

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Nicole Yang can be reached at her @nicolecyang.