After a 128-102 blowout loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday night, the Boston Celtics face a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals, putting their season on life support. NBA legend Magic Johnson called this one of the most embarrassing losses in Celtics history, and looking at the entire situation, it's hard to say he's wrong.
In my 44 years of being associated with the NBA I never thought I’d see a Boston Celtics team, a franchise with 17 Championships, quit. I know Celtics fans all over the world must be disgusted and devastated. The Miami Heat blew them out 128-102 in Game 3.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) May 22, 2023
Unlike the first two games of this series, this wasn't a close match the Celtics let slip away. They were essentially never in this game as the Heat did whatever they wanted. And this wasn't a game in which Jimmy Butler completely took over, either. Miami just dominated Boston from top to bottom.
This season should have been a redemption for the Celtics after losing the NBA Finals last year. Now, barring a 3-0 comeback that no team in NBA history has ever pulled off, they won't even get back to the Finals. The worst part is that their worst enemy has been themselves throughout these playoffs.
The Celtics got themselves into this situation, and now they have to get themselves out of it or face even more embarrassment. Really, the entire team is to blame for this disaster, but a few figures more than others. With that said, here are are a few of the Celtics most to blame for the blowout loss to the Heat in Game 3.
3. Malcolm Brogdon
After an offseason trade from the Indiana Pacers, Brogdon has had a very good first season in Boston. Coming off the bench in 67 games and averaging 26 minutes a night, Brogdon scored 14.9 points per game on 61.5% true shooting. The 30-year-old guard won the Sixth Man of the Year Award for his contributions off the bench.
For all the good he has done this season, Brogdon was awful on Sunday night. He failed to score a point for the first time all season, missing all six shots from the field. He also had just two rebounds and two assists and was a -23 in 18 minutes.
Brogdon had been solid in the first two games, scoring 32 points on 11-of-23 shooting from the field. Like the rest of the team, though, Game 3 was a completely different story. He and everyone else will need to be much better as they face elimination in Game 4.
2. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
The Celtics only go as far as their two stars can carry them. So, it comes as no surprise that they both had awful performances on Sunday, playing a large part Boston's disastrous showing.
Tatum recorded 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting from the field, 10 rebounds and two assists with a -23 rating. Meanwhile, Brown had 12 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field, six rebounds and two assists with a -25 rating, with some brutal defensive lapses to go along with it. It's arguable which one of them was worse, but the end result its all the same.
Bam Adebayo put Jaylen Brown in the SPIN CYCLE 🌪️
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 22, 2023
Tatum and Brown have both had some questionable performances throughout the playoffs, but this game takes the cake. For comparison, the Heat's two highest-scoring players were Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson, two undrafted players who combined for 51 points on excellent shooting. Meanwhile, the Celtics' stars, both of whom were top-three picks, combined for 26 points on terrible shooting. When your two best players are performing so badly, there's almost no chance of winning.
In Game 3:
Brown/Tatum — Vincent/Robinson —
26 PTS 51 PTS
12-35 FG 18-25 FG
1-14 3P 11-16 3P
The Jays were both drafted 3rd overall. Duncan and Gabe were undrafted. pic.twitter.com/tNupcxnVeE
— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 22, 2023
1. Joe Mazzulla
It wasn't that long ago when Mazzulla was a Coach of the Year candidate. That's hilarious to look back on after these playoffs and especially this series.
Most would agree that the Celtics have the more talented roster, but the Heat have a massive advantage in coaching. Mazzulla has rarely made the needed adjustments, and even when he does, Erik Spoelstra has countered them at every turn. This series has shown the difference between a rookie coach and one who has been one of the NBA's best for 15 years.
The players don’t play for Joe Mazzulla.
The players don’t play well under Joe Mazzulla.
Joe Mazzulla doesn’t coach.
Joe Mazzulla doesn’t know how to coach a superstar.
Joe Mazzulla is not ready for this role.
The Celtics need someone else other than Joe Mazzulla as their head…
— Jordan Moore (@iJordanMoore) May 22, 2023
Mazzulla's flaws also extend beyond just in-game adjustments. By his own admission, Mazzulla didn't have the Celtics mentally prepared for this game.
“I just didn't have them ready to play,” Mazzulla said, via ESPN. “I have to get them in a better place ready to play, and that's on me.”
Showing accountability for mistakes is commendable, but getting players ready to play is part of the coach's job. By admitting he failed to prepare his team, Mazzulla is effectively saying that he shouldn't be the coach.
With how this series has gone, it seems that many Celtics fans agree with that sentiment. If the Celtics can't pull off an unprecedented comeback, it's going to be a long offseason full of questions in Boston.