There have been some stink bombs detonated by Boston teams in big games throughout the decades.
This may have been the most foul of all.
On a postcard-perfect Memorial Day, with the entire region braced for an 0-3 comeback that would mirror what those Curse-busting Red Sox did 19 years ago, the poser Celtics submitted a woeful Game 7 effort in the Eastern Conference finals and were thrashed by the so-much-mentally-tougher, eighth-seeded Miami Heat, 103-84, Monday night at the Garden.
So there. The Green Team’s spring of “Unfinished Business” is officially finished. And, sadly, the only takeaway is that your 2022-23 Celtics were front-running frauds. I mean, did they really deserve another trip to the Finals after the way they played with their food all year?
Don’t take it from me. Listen to NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. At halftime of this embarrassment, Chuck told the TNT audience, “Watching these dumbass Celtics play is making my head hurt … It’s so bad to watch them play. There’s no ball movement, there’s no body movement, and its frustrating watching a team with this much talent just play stupid.’’
Built to win a championship this year, gifted with a clear path for a return to the NBA Finals, the Celtics spit the bit, getting booed off the fabled parquet while submitting one of the worst Game 7 game efforts in Boston sports history.
The loss launches a summer of speculation for Boston’s rookie coach Joe Mazzulla and the ever-overrated two “Jays,” bookend All-NBA guys (can we get a recount?) Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Jays came up woefully short in this sad series and I’m beginning to wonder if Kyrie Irving’s brief Celtic stint somehow poisoned the pair. They are in the prime of their athletic lives and show little benefit from playing in four conference finals together. This was supposed to be their time.
In the gruesome finale, Tatum, who rolled his ankle in the opening minute, made 5 of 13 shots (1 for 4 on threes), and scored a meager 14 points. This after getting zero baskets in the fourth quarters of the first three games when the Celtics kicked the series away by losing three straight to a supposedly inferior team.
Brown, meanwhile, scored 19, but made only 8 of 23 shots (1 for 9 on threes) and committed a whopping eight turnovers.
“We failed,’’ said Brown. “I failed. We let the whole city down.’’
“What we have to do to get better, I think, is to learn from that,” said Mazzulla. “Regardless of those circumstances, the locker room showed a sense of toughness and togetherness.”
Swell. He is there. We are not. But this was bad. Mazzulla’s team threw shade on Boston’s Game 7 legacy. Bill Russell (who died last July) was Mr. Game 7, going 10-0 in the ultimate game. He would not have liked this Celtic performance.
Russell would have liked the Heat with their 44 wins, seven undrafted players, and zero love from national pundits. Before this series started, ESPN geeks determined that the Celtics had a 97 percent chance of winning the series. The Celtics were favored by Vegas wiseguys in every game, even after losing the first three and playing on the road in Game 4.
The Celtics managed to claw back into the series, but only because that was easy. They are all about the easy. It’s “the hard” that gave these Celtics trouble.
In the end, they lost to a team that needed two play-in games to make the postseason, was outscored during the regular season, and played without two of its rotation players (Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo). Poor Joey M was pantsed by Hall of Fame-bound Erik Spoelstra, and Miami assassin Jimmy Butler (28 in Game 7) had his way.
The Celtics took a brief 5-point lead early, but missed all 10 3-point attempts in the first quarter and trailed, 22-15, after one. Brown and new local hero Derrick White were both 0 for 3 from beyond the arc in the first 12 minutes. Tatum scored only 1 point in the period. Fifteen points and four turnovers was not what the Celtics were looking for out of the gate. It felt like we were watching the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons.
When the Heat ripped off 5 quick points to start the second to push their lead to 27-15, Mazzulla did the unthinkable: He called time to stop the bleeding. Boston’s kid coach would rather stick needles in his eyes than call time to stop a run by the other team, but all the rules went out the window for Game 7.
White missed Boston’s first attempt after the break. Another three. 0 for 12. Finally, Al Horford struck gold from out top, putting an end to the dirty dozen. But a three by dinosaur Kyle Lowry and a Princeton backdoor layup by Duncan Robinson pushed Miami’s lead to an unthinkable 38-21 as the Heat feasted on Boston’s stand-around defense.
The Celtics cut it to 52-41 by intermission, but the first seconds after halftime were bad. Butler ripped off a quick 5 points and Mazzulla had to call yet another timeout when the lead was up to 16. A 15-7 Celtic run led by White (his Dave Roberts moment will fade quickly because of the way this ended) cut it to 7 late in the third, but there was no cooling Caleb Martin (11-for-16 shooting, 26 points) and the Heat.
The fourth quarter was bloody for Boston as boos rained down from the Garden’s upper decks. This marked the 12th home loss in the last two playoff springs for the Celtics. It’s an NBA record.
The Heat were presented with the Bob Cousy conference final trophy (ouch) and Butler got the Larry Bird conference final MVP hardware (double ouch). The NBA Finals start Thursday night in Denver.
While the Finals unfold, your Celtics will be spitting out pieces of their broken luck, wondering if their kid coach may have a new role, and if maybe we’ve seen the last of the Tatum/Brown/Smart Green Team.
Read more about the end of the Celtics’ season
- Dan Shaughnessy: Celtics’ loss to Heat in Game 7 was a meltdown of epic proportions in Boston sports
- ‘We let the whole city down:’ With momentum on their side, the Celtics tried to make history. Instead, it’s just another bitter end.
- The Celtics finally ran out of gas in Game 7, but it never should have come to this
- Instant analysis: The Celtics’ worst habits showed up at the worst possible time, and their season is over