The Boston Celtics are toast.
The Celtics have already tried to win games with a balanced offensive effort (six double-figure scorers in Game 1), a star in Jayson Tatum going off in Game 2, and a concerted effort in offensive rebounding in Game 3.
And yet, Boston is staring at a 3-0 series deficit and on the brink of another playoff exit.
Despite having the more imposing frontcourt rotation, the Celtics were bullied in the paint by Bam Adebayo and the Heat. Things only got worse for Boston, as Miami’s 3-point shooting (54.3 percent on 35 attempts) blew the game wide open and with it the chances of the Celtics.
By now, it should be obvious that Jimmy Butler saves his best for the final moments of a game. However, Butler didn’t need to go supernova in Game 3 when he and five of his teammates were in double-figures halfway through the third quarter. Boston had four players finish in double figures at the end of Game 3, although only Tatum and Jaylen Brown were in double figures for the Celtics during the game’s competitive portions.
It also didn’t help that Boston’s frustrations were boiling over.
The Celtics threw in the towel early as they went deep into their bench with quite a lot of time left in the fourth quarter. Clearly they were already looking towards Game 4, but given the state of their locker room and the relentless effort of the Heat, is there anything else Boston can do?
A more aggressive effort to get to the free throw line would be a good place to start. While it is true that the Celtics are not the type to get to the free throw line often in the playoffs and during the regular season, doing so would help them achieve two things: score points and cut Miami down to size.
Brown and Tatum had their worst offensive nights in this series come at possibly the worst time and they must break out of their slumps in Game 4. It’s been said that great scorers only need to see the ball go through the hoop to get back into the groove and from here on out, an extended series may require a herculean effort from both of them.
The Heat have obviously been able to showcase their depth in the last three games with six players scoring at least nine points, but on an individual basis, Boston has a fighting chance. Getting the likes of Butler and Bam Adebayo into foul trouble is of course, easier said than done, but the goal here is to force Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra into relying on the rest of Miami to pick up the slack. Might as well live and die by defending the likes of Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, and Duncan Robinson, who may not go for big scoring nights again if the defense gives them respect.
With the conference finals for both the Eastern and Western Conferences held every other day, it’s been tougher for teams to decompress and perhaps process things, but it’s not an excuse given that all four teams are going through the same general circumstances. That being said, perhaps Boston just needs to slow things down.
Of course, fastbreak points have been among the Celtics’ key strengths but a more deliberate approach may help Boston in finding the holes in the Heat defense. Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Malcolm Brogdon can take turns running the offense, with the likes of Al Horford and Grant Williams being more than capable of keeping the ball moving.
But all of this rests in the mindset of the Celtics and it’s on head coach Joe Mazzulla to get that his players in the right frame of mind.
The Boston Celtics’ chances of coming back from a 3-0 series deficit have gotten slimmer by the day, but they will always have a fighting chance until they or the Miami Heat reach four wins in the series. Anyone can come up with ways and means to beat the Heat, but if the Celtics themselves have defeat written all over their faces, then they might as well hand the series over to Miami.