The Boston Celtics gave Joe Mazzulla a vote of confidence back in February when they removed the “interim” label from his title and named him the franchise’s new head coach.
Now, roughly three months later, with the Celtics facing elimination in the Eastern Conference finals, it’s fair to wonder whether the organization’s stance has changed. Boston looked lifeless Sunday night in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, the latest sign Mazzulla might’ve lost the locker room.
“The Boston Celtics are a big, big, big, big brand. This is national TV,” Colin Cowherd said Monday on FS1’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.” “And their coach isn’t ready. Don’t blame the players. These same players were great last year. It’s the coach. It happens. He’s over his head. And he’s going up against probably the best coach in basketball every other night on national TV.
“It’s like the Celtics are this elegant, talented five-star restaurant and the chef has butchered the meal on national TV and people are streaming out of it across the street to a food truck, the Miami Heat, with no frills, paper plates and for eight bucks you get the best sandwich in town. It makes the Heat so redeemable and so easy to love, because they’re everything Boston isn’t — underdogs, untouted, tough, fighters, relentless — and it’s playing out on television night after night after night. It’s the coach. And then you combine Joe Mazzulla, probably a great guy but he’s not ready for the gig, he’s a kid, and you combine him with this relentless Heat team and the coach, and the weird Jaylen Brown-Jayson Tatum end-of-game vibe. And then you combine that with Jaylen Brown’s hand, which is hurt, obviously, because now he’s 2-for-20 on 3s. And it’s just the perfect storm to be an absolute mess.”
The Heat steamrolled the Celtics 128-102 in Game 3 at Kaseya Center to seize a 3-0 series lead. And frankly, the game wasn’t even that close. Miami completely outclassed Boston to pull within one win of the NBA Finals. The C’s simply didn’t show up despite their season effectively being on the line, an all-too-common theme for a frontrunning group that hardly impressed in Round 1 against the Atlanta Hawks and barely survived a seven-game slugfest with the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 2.
“It was the coach of Boston, Joe Mazzulla. He’s over his skis,” Cowherd said. “Same dudes last year, mostly, were tough and feisty, confrontational, trapping, adjustments, they sought out matchups. … He’s not ready. But we’re watching this thing play out on TV and he’s not ready, and the chef butchered the meal. It’s bad.”
There’s plenty of blame pie to go around, starting with Boston’s star tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It’s discouraging to see Tatum — a perennial MVP candidate — frequently struggle to elevate his game in big spots, though, and perhaps some of that this postseason is on Mazzulla.
“So, Tatum’s a guy that’s got some self-doubt, the opposite of (Jimmy) Butler, who’s got zero,” Cowherd said. “Tatum has had very strong coaches in his career — Mike Krzyzewski, Brad Stevens, Ime Udoka. Strong, strong coaches. And they have elevated Tatum, infused confidence in Tatum. These are really, really high-end coaches. So, Tatum now, who’s got really an assistant coach pretending to be a head coach — they offered him the job, he took it — and Tatum is shrinking.”
Does this mean the Celtics should fire Mazzulla if the Heat send them packing one year after Boston lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals under Ime Udoka? It’s the type of unsettling debate the Celtics suddenly face if they let a golden opportunity for Banner 18 slip away.
“These title windows shrink fast. This was the year,” Cowherd said. “The Heat knocked out the Milwaukee Bucks. The Sixers stars imploded. The Warriors are in a rebuild year. This was the year. This was the year. LeBron’s too old. And now, you’ve got a major question on your hands. Uh-oh. Tatum and Brown qualify for the max extension, $613 million (between the two). What are you going to do now? My takeaway is you can’t blame the players.
” … You can blame the players all you want. I do think they need to tweak the offense. They’ve got enough defensive guys. Their defense is fine. They’ll get the right coach. The defense will be fine. But you’ve got to move off the coach.”
Maybe the Celtics jumped the gun back in February.