Celtics’ Implosion Vs. Heat Encapsulation Of Infuriating Team

Boston lacked fight. It lacked mental toughness. Now the C's are nearing what feels like an inevitable exit


May 21, 2023

The Boston Celtics imploded.

They unraveled.

They lacked fight.

The moment was too big.

All of the above.

There was more to it than the fact they shot a woeful 26% from long range with 15 turnovers.

There was more to it than the fact opposing role players like Gabe Vincent (game-high 29 points on 11-for-14), Duncan Robinson (22 points 7-for-11) and Caleb Martin (18 points on 7-for-11) each outscored Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

With their season on the line in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat on Sunday night, arguably the most maddening team in sports had their most infuriating performance. The Green, appropriately wearing their Funeral Blacks, got absolutely punked in South Beach.

They lost 128-102 in an embarrassing contest they once trailed by 33 points. And that was when their starters were on the floor.

Miami, who started the postseason in the NBA Play-In Tournament, now holds a 3-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series. The Heat are one win from the NBA Finals. The Celtics are one loss away from the offseason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, NBA teams are 0-149 when trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven. It’s never been done. And don’t expect these Celtics to be the first to do it.

Mental toughness isn’t exactly their calling card, after all. Their unwillingness to play with the same intensity and desire as the less-talented Heat, as has been the case all series, again was on display. It traveled from TD Garden to Kaseya Center.

“The lack of mental toughness, it’s embarrassing,” the typically outspoken Charles Barkley said on the TNT broadcast when the Celtics trailed 61-46 at the half, proceeding to express how he felt bad for Celtics greats like Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, M.L. Carr and others. “That was embarrassing as a Celtics fan.”

Green Teamers surely will sign off on Sir Charles’ assessment.

During the third quarter, fellow TNT analyst Reggie Miller commented how the Celtics showed no fight. Sitting right next to Miller, Stan Van Gundy confirmed it looked like the Celtics quit.

Sure did.

Instead of starting on time, the Celtics complained to Tony Brothers’ officiating crew every time up and down the floor. Instead of responding in the way they had talked about all postseason, they didn’t defend while allowing back-to-back 30-point quarters. Miami initially created second-quarter separation with All-World Playoff Performer Jimmy Butler on the bench. Instead, it was Robinson, Vincent and Martin who excelled and benefitted from open looks against a lackluster defense.

I mean, really? While the “undrafted” storyline gained far too much traction throughout this series, when those three are overshadowing Tatum and Brown it’s fair to question: What the hell are we doing here?

Tatum and Brown combined for 26 points on 12-for-35 during the first three quarters. They didn’t play in the fourth because Boston trailed by 30 points at the start of the period. They were 1-14 from long range in those 36 minutes. That’s so bad it’s impressive.

But they weren’t alone. As a team, the Celtics lost composure early and it didn’t get any better. Marcus Smart chirped Brothers so much he got a first-half technical AFTER a Boston-made basket. Wait, what? And then there were the two consecutive possessions where Smart was called for a flagrant after inexplicably trying to throw a hand at Martin under the hoop before Al Horford ran through Bam Adebayo for a crystal-clear charge. It only propelled Miami to a 10-2 run as the hosts extended their lead to 74-51 with 8:59 left in the third. The Heat outscored the Celtics 32-17 in the third quarter.

Game over.

It feels their season inevitably is next.

Thumbnail photo via Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports Images
Miami Heat teammates Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent
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