MIAMI – Going into Game 3, the Boston Celtics had a plan and a goal. They knew one more loss would push their season to an irreparable breaking point. They came with the best of intentions.
Then everything collapsed. So after losing 128-102 to go down 0-3 against the Miami Heat, Joe Mazzola came out and fell on his sword.
“I just didn’t find them ready to play,” he said. “I just didn’t execute the proper game plan. I didn’t put them in the right mindset to be ready, and it’s my job to make sure they’re connected and ready to play, and I haven’t done that.”
but why? Why couldn’t the Celtics, who always played their best when their backs against the wall, look like they were in over their heads?
“It’s a bit confusing because we’re so committed and seem closed to going into the game. Going out there and doing that is just a performance that can’t happen,” said Grant Williams. the athlete. “Even in the regular season, that can’t happen. And to do that in the Conference Finals is just awful.”
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But as Mazzola said when asked about some of his biggest decisions this year, hindsight is 20/20. He and his crew made comprehensive game plans for players who battled through the playoffs for years, but then the system didn’t quite hold up and attention to detail left plenty of cracks for them to cover up.
Mazzola was asked, “I don’t want to say you lost this team, but is there a disconnect between you and the guys at this point?”
Mazullah replied, “Yes, this is where I should be best.” “Find out what this team needs to do to make sure they’re connected, they’re physical, and they’re together by the time they hit the ground running.”
When asked why the connection was cut off, he said he wasn’t sure. It is unclear why this team is not up to par. This should not just fall on Mazzulla’s shoulders, as this core is well prepared to channel these trying moments through her experience over the years. Even when his players blamed themselves, there was still a loss for words as to why they seemed so lost there at times.
“There’s nothing he can tell us. There’s nothing he can do to help the team compete, help the team play hard,” Williams said. “As much as you can claim he can be the head coach, but we have to look at ourselves head on.” And we say, “What’s going on?” Because as players, we’ve, like, been here before, we’ve done this year after year. And looking at ourselves and not seeing the same edge is something I’ve never experienced. It was as if we set ourselves up tonight and as a player, this – unacceptable and frustrating.”
Each player who spoke after the game was asked to explain what this disconnect was like inside the locker room. They can point to some waning defensive principles or not rushing into attacking. But there is only so much a coach can do. Players have to play with inspiration.
“In terms of breaking up, I always have to support our head coach,” said Williams. “It’s his freshman year. You know, it’s one of those things he’s learning and he’s doing his best. So for us, we have to help him along this way and give him some kind of assurance. Because it’s hard to coach a team when we’re doing certain things — like that night.”
Mazzola has always resisted showing frustration when asked about the team’s struggles when so much is at stake. When asked if this was the right moment to make this kind of grand gesture, he said the most important thing was to hold on to each other.
Whether his locker room and timeout speeches needed more fire or weren’t loud enough, Mazzola said he has to make it happen.
“I don’t know. At the time you think you’re saying what needs to be said, but at the time I should be better,” Mazzola said. “I have to make sure when we step on that floor that we’re ready to run, ready to be physical, ready to play harder than the other team. It’s my duty.”
Miami prompted Boston to reassess their defensive approach throughout the series, with Mazzola finally calling a double-team on Jimmy Butler late in the second quarter. The Celtics were holding on to a single-digit deficit until the 7:20 mark, when Caleb Martin buried 3 on a Duncan Robinson pass and Mazzola called a timeout to try to fix things.
But Miami’s lead continued to grow as Bam Adebayo put everyone in sight while Butler and Robinson continued to push past defenders on the Boston perimeter. Mazzulla kept making the subs and letting things run, then finally decided to double Butler after Miami called a timeout with just over three minutes left in the half. Even though it helped them get stops, Boston continued to take mediocre 3s and lose them terribly.
Williams said. “It just breaks it down and takes the life away. For us, we had to play as a happy team and tonight it looked like we were playing without any fun, without any fun, without any confidence, and I’ve never seen that before. You know, this is the first time I’ve seen it.” “.
Mazzola noted that the team is not pressing for occasional games early on half-court possessions and that they have difficulty playing against a defensive group. Miami set the pace and it was untenable for a Celtics team whose offense relied on uptempo play to create easy chances. But the heat doesn’t yield, and it’s almost impossible to beat when it’s on fire from the depths.
“It was a tough night,” Jason Tatum said. “I think from the start of the game, we were turning the ball over. We didn’t hit the ball very well. They shot the ball very well. Just kind of felt like we never recovered, honestly. That’s on us all as a unit. We didn’t play well at all. Obviously. , by the result, “.
It all revolved around Butler, who is, humbly, one of the best players in the world. Tatum was supposed to stick to his end of the bargain and go for a jab with Butler, but the Celtics looked completely lost early in the game and still haven’t found a rhythm.
It became apparent that things were not going to turn around when they saw Butler bat in a familiar position early in the second half.
He remembered when Al Horford hit a 3 early in Game 1 and got down on his knees to make a big T with his hands, a rare act of careless speech for a normally reserved veteran. So when Gabe Vincent — whose points were 29 more than Jaylen Brown and Tatum combined — buried the three points that sealed the Celtics’ fate, he took a knee and suggested to Horford that his season was over.
“I think they are bullies who are punishing us and you either stand up to the bully and fight it back or you let them continue,” Williams said. “Because for the whole season, we didn’t let things like that happen. And even when we played with this team, we know it’s a battle, but it seems like we’re bummed out, we get punched in the face. So we have to keep our guard up and find a way or we have to take the fight to them.” one or the other.”
Miami had two great playmakers in Butler and Adebayo who could force their way into every inch of the field and create an appearance. Erik Spoelstra surrounds his stars with all kinds of pitchers who never stop moving and make all kinds of cool reads to make the Celtics’ switches and multipliers even more challenging.
The Celtics hardly found anything when they weren’t around. Tatum and Brown went three-on-one for the night. Defensive runs were too late to stop Miami’s stunning shootout.
The Celtics just lost.
Nothing works. The heat has always been on top. The Celtics couldn’t find their footing for more than a minute before Miami ran them all over. Despite the poor mentality component, this loss was rooted in the indistinct structure of this team that defined its season.
“Last year, the only thing I remember was if our offense stagnated and we couldn’t score, guess what, the other team wasn’t scoring either,” Williams said. “We had a certain level of grit, a certain level of superiority, a certain level of mentality and teamwork that we haven’t played with this year.”
Now they are on the brink of elimination in a season where they were all in. So they can’t just throw in the towel now.
“I don’t think so. I hope not. That’s not what I’m about,” Brown said. “I’ll fight to the end. Try to prepare our guys for the next game, we go out and do our best forward.”
(Photo by Jason Tatum: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
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