The Boston Celtics still have the opportunity to avoid getting swept out of the Eastern Conference Finals. Even if they manage to beat the Miami Heat in Tuesday night's Game 4, though, Boston's ultimate fate will have nevertheless been sealed 48 hours earlier during an embarrassing, blowout loss in South Beach that called the future of this core into greater question than ever.
What will almost surely cause Brad Stevens and the front office to blow up the roster once the Heat officially dethrone the Celtics as Eastern Conference champions? A bubbling notion that interpersonal issues between incumbent players and coaches might always keep Boston from raising another championship banner.
“I’ve had a source tell me in the past week that this Celtics team feels like a group that’s tired of fake liking each other.” @KevinOConnorNBA on what's led to the Celtics struggles in the Eastern Conference Finals 😳
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 23, 2023
Teams don't necessarily have to be especially tight-knit off the court to win title in the NBA. But unflinching trust and understanding are integral parts of the championship recipe, ones that have been sorely lacking for the Celtics over the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals—especially compared to an ultra-connected team like the Heat.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have taken turns playing debilitating brands of me-first hero ball throughout the playoffs. Al Horford's spirited encouragement to younger teammates during timeouts seem to regularly fall on deaf ears. Grant Williams' losing war of words with Jimmy Butler as Boston held a lead late in Game 2 surely ruffled some feathers in the locker room. Rookie coach Joe Mazzulla all but admitted after Game 3 that he'd lost the team.
There's a chance changes were coming for the Celtics no matter how the Eastern Conference Finals unfolded. Brown is up for a max extension this summer and suggested before the playoffs tipped off he may not be long for Boston, while Williams—in and out of Mazzulla's rotation all season—is due for a payday in restricted free agency the Celtics may be unwilling to meet.
But there's no denying the tenor of this series has drastically increased the likelihood Boston will look a lot different next season, among the league's biggest potential team-building dominoes entering the summer.