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Pathetic. That's really the only way to describe the Celtics’ 128-102 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 3 of The Eastern Conference Finals. With their season on the line, Boston was simply not prepared and showed no sense of pride, as they rolled out one of their worst postseason performances in recent memory.
Boston led for just 3:09 early in Sunday night’s contest. Miami eventually built up a lead as large 33 points in the third quarter. The Celtics' 26-point margin of defeat is their second-largest this season and it could not have come at a worse time.
The Celtics flat-out quit. When things got tough, they gave up. They gave up on their coach, they gave up on their fans, and they gave up on each other. To think that this team has talked all year about how determined and hungry they are to get back to the NBA Finals, and then rolled out that type of performance is disheartening.
The Celtics, a team that was in the NBA Finals a season ago and won 57 games this season, are now one loss from being swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by a team that they are undoubtedly better than talent-wise.
Boston’s lack of heart, determination and pride has been on display a few times throughout this postseason, and Game 3 was just another sorry example. While giving up will be the main takeaway from Sunday night’s loss, it was much of the same when it came to the X’s and O's that haunted the C’s.
Lost the perimeter battle
The Celtics averaged 16.0 made threes per game this season (second-most in the NBA), on 37.7% shooting (sixth-best in the NBA). On the defensive end, Boston held opponents to just 11.6 made threes per game (sixth-fewest in the NBA), on 34.5% shooting (fourth-worst in the NBA). Controlling the perimeter has been such a key aspect to the Celtics' success, and they have been downright dominated in that department this series.
Boston has been putrid from three this series, and Game 3 was no different. Boston finished the Sunday night’s contest 11-of-42 (26.2%) from three, as the C’s have now shot under 30% from three in consecutive games, a mark they only hit 15 times this season. Boston is now shooting 31-of-106 (29.2%) from three this series, as they are averaging just 10.3 makes per game.
The Celtics have been even worse when it comes to defending the three. Miami does a lot of things well, but shooting the three isn’t necessarily one of them. Miami shot just 34.4% from deep in the regular season, which was good for 27th in the league, but you would never know that from their efforts this series.
In three games this series, Miami is now averaging 14.7 three pointers made per game on a ridiculous 47.8% shooting. For what it’s worth, Miami only shot 45% or better from three nine times in the regular season, and they have now shot over 50% from three in consecutive games, a mark they only reached twice this season.
Lost their defensive identity
In order for the Celtics to succeed, they need to play two-way basketball. It’s critical their defense complements their offense and vice versa. The defensive effort from Boston was nothing short of embarrassing in Game 3 and it hurt their production on the offensive end, as it has much of this series.
Head coach Joe Mazzulla touched on this postgame: “I think some of that defensive identity has been lost,” he said.
Boston finished the regular season number two in total defense, while Miami finished last in points per game, with just 109.5. You would never know that was the case from this series.
Boston has simply had no answer on the defensive end for Miami. Led by Gabe Vincent, who finished with a career-high 29 points, and Duncan Robinson, who poured in another 22 points, the Heat had their way all night.
Boston has been a heavy switching team all season, and Miami has exposed it this series. Miami’s offense is dominating the Celtics’ defense in every aspect of the game. The Heat are now averaging 120.7 points per game this series, which is a dramatic 11.2-point increase from their regular season average, on 51.9% shooting from the field.
Tatum and Brown have gone missing
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have struggled to get on the same page this postseason. Oftentimes it’s been one or the other, as the two have really struggled to get going simultaneously.
Brown in particular has significantly struggled this series. The 2022-23 All NBA Second Team member had one of the worst postseason performances in his career in Game 2, and he struggled to get it going again in Game 3. The Jays combined for just 26 points on 12-of-35 (34.2%) shooting, including an ugly 1-of-14 (7%) from three. They also combined for six turnovers.
In reality, Boston’s season was on the line in Game 3, and their two All-NBA players laid an egg. The Jays had their struggles during last year’s Finals run, and it’s happening again. Tatum and Brown are far and away the most talented players on the court this series, which makes their struggles even tougher to stomach.
Boston’s superstars simply have to be better in these moments. They have proven they can do it, it's just a matter of doing it consistently. Though most of the blame should be put on Tatum and Brown for their struggles in Game 3, the guards should not be let off the hook.
Boston’s guard depth of Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon has played such a key role in their success this season. When the Jays have struggled, the guards have picked them up, and that was not the case in Game 3. Boston’s guard trio finished Game 3 with a combined 17 points on 5-of-23 (21.7%) shooting.
Brogdon, the 2022-23 Sixth Man of The Year, was especially bad in Game 3, as he had what might have been his worst game as a Celtic, finishing 0-of-6 shooting with a minus-23 plus/minus.