Prior to the start of the Eastern Conference Finals, Celtics’ coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about the supposed “Heat Culture” that had eighth-seeded Miami rolling into the matchup with Boston.
The first-year bench boss said, “I mean everybody has a culture. I think we have ours as well. Both teams have shown that they’re able to get through good times and bad. And that says a lot about the players in the organization, more than anything.”
To say that sentiment hasn’t aged well would be the understatement of the month and maybe the year.
Three putrid games later the Celtics are on the brink of elimination, bad times leaving a truly beaten team that’s become the laughingstock and punching bag of the sports world.
Former Celtic and current NBC Sports Boston analyst Eddie House said the Celtics “quit” on Mazzulla in Sunday night’s embarrassing 128-102 Game 3 loss in Miami that wasn’t as close as that final score.
“I didn’t have them ready to play,” Mazzulla said in his postgame press conference. “That’s on me.”
Charles Barkley didn’t wait until postgame to skewer these supposedly more talented Celtics, saying on the TNT halftime show that he was “embarrassed” for Boston and the team’s “lack of mental toughness.”
Sure, maybe every team does have a culture. But right now the culture in Boston, led by its supposed superstar tandem of All-NBAers Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, is an environment of underachieving, finger-pointing, failure, lack of leadership and just about every other negative assessment that can be thrown at any team in any sport.
A team steeped in history, one of 17 championships and some of the greatest players to ever step foot on a basketball court, has been broken. “Heat Culture” has simply crushed supposed “Celtic Pride” this spring in a way that no one saw coming and a way that no one – not players, coaches or management – is apparently capable of stopping.
Remember, the Celtics were supposedly to be cake walking their way back to the NBA Finals. ESPN analytics proclaimed that Boston had a 97-percent chance to win the series.
Now, history tells us they have no chance to win the series. No team has ever come back from down 3-0 in the NBA.
Meanwhile in Miami, “Heat Culture” is rolling. Jimmy Butler looks like a star and a leader, a dog whose mentality permeates the roster in the best of ways. Role players and undrafted types – in case you haven’t heard often enough, Erik Spoelstra’s team is littered with undrafted contributors in a way that would make Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick giddy -- are playing at the highest level, believing in themselves and their teammates making them, to date in the series, unbeatable.
Remember a couple weeks ago when the Bruins had us Boston sports fans and media types wondering if the record-setting team had just put forth the worst failure in local sports history?
Well, Mazzulla’s Celtics apparently asked Jim Montgomery, Linus Ullmark & Co. to, “hold my beer.”
It would be one thing if the Celtics were going down swinging against Miami the way the Bruins did the Panthers. But it’s an entirely different situation watching Tatum, Brown and the rest wilt under the heat that Miami has brought to the ECF.
There is a difference between losing and being at a total loss. Players and teams can have personal and professional pride and still come up short.
But this, this is not that. Unacceptable for any team at any level. Even more so for the Boston Celtics and their talent level.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Brown said after a long pause to open his postgame press conference.
That’s understandable. There isn’t much to say. Actions speak much louder than hollow words.
The Celtics’ play this series, and particularly in the season-defining Game 3 loss, has said it all.
For the here and now, "Celtic Pride" is a thing of the past.
And the “Heat Culture” that Mazzulla seemingly dismissed prior to the start of the series? It will soon be heading to the NBA Finals.