Not much can be said about the Boston Celtics that hasn’t been said before. The Miami Heat have outdueled, outclassed, and out-hustled the Celtics through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals and if they don’t win tomorrow night, they’ll be out of the playoffs.
But Game 3 was the worst of the bunch. With their season effectively on the line, the Celtics did worse than simply disappear. Instead, they showed up with a lackluster effort on both sides of the ball, paving Miami’s road to the NBA Finals brick by brick. Literally.
“I don’t even know where to start. An obvious letdown,” said Jaylen Brown. “I feel like we let our fanbase [and] organization down. We let ourselves down. And it was collective. We can point fingers, but, in reality, just embarrassing.”
After each disappointing loss this postseason, the Celtics have vowed to improve. They’ve kept their eyes forward, choosing to focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past.
For the most part, that’s a great strategy. There’s no point in sulking. But while the Celtics shouldn’t live in the past, they need to learn from it.
That’s what they have failed to do.
“As tough as it is, as tonight was, we just got to try to move on,” said Jayson Tatum. “Prepare, get ready, practice, film, and stuff for tomorrow. Obviously, we’re in a tough position, but we just got to have some pride, bounce back, and just be better come Tuesday.”
“We just have to be better” has been a common trope for the Celtics post-loss. It’s become their motto after every bump in the road.
In theory, it’s exactly what needs to be said. There’s not much else the Celtics can say. But they haven’t been better, they haven’t learned from their mistakes, and they continue to move forward with the same inexcusable lack of effort that leads to their downfall.
After putting together two solid showings in Games 1 and 2, Tatum wilted in Game 3, failing to live up to his superstar status.
“We’re going to try to get our guys ready for the next game,” said Brown. “And we’ll come out, and we’ll put our best foot forward. And at the end of the day, that’s what we got to do. That’s just how I see it. The series isn’t over yet.”
Throughout the course of NBA history, teams are 0-149 when down 0-3 in a playoff series. While Brown is technically correct, this is as over as the series possibly could be without meeting the literal requirement of the phrase.
And again, getting ready for the next game only matters when one is willing to learn from their mistakes.
Brown has put together a putrid series. Game 1 saw him put together an efficient night but make countless mistakes that led to six turnovers. Game 2 was a disastrous effort for him on both sides of the ball, as he chose to tunnel-vision to the rim and call his number repeatedly. And in Game 3, it was more of the same.
“I think the most important thing is just sticking together,” Joe Mazzulla said post-game. “And then I have to be better. I got to put them in better positions. I got to get them ready to play.”
Obviously, it’s crucial that the Celtics stick together, but once again, the “we have to be better” excuse rears its ugly head.
Mazzulla isn’t on the court playing. The Celtics need to put in the effort in that regard, and they simply haven’t. But the head coach has been far from perfect this series.
From not including Derrick White and Robert Williams in the closing lineups of Game 2 (when they were the second and third-best players on the court) to not testing out new lineups in Game 3 when shooters went cold to failing to implement a successful defensive structure, Mazzulla has been outcoached by Erik Spoelstra. By a mile.
All we will hear from the Celtics is “we have to be better.” But there is no future to be better in anymore. The time is now.
More accurately, the time has passed.