Joe Mazzulla In Jeopardy After Game 3 Loss?

The Celtics‘ embarrassing Game 3 loss to Miami could lead to significant changes this offseason, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Boston entered the conference finals as the odds-on favorite to win the NBA title, but the team didn’t look anything like a champion in Sunday’s 128-102 defeat. The Heat seized control of the game late in the first quarter and led by as many as 33 points before the night was over.

The most obvious questions center on the future of head coach Joe Mazzulla, who has been overmatched by Heat mentor Erik Spoelstra in the series. Windhorst states that Mazzulla seemed well-positioned to return for another season before Game 3, but the Celtics’ lifeless performance makes his job much less safe.

Mazzulla accepted blame for the loss, repeatedly telling reporters, “I just didn’t have them ready to play,” and adding, “I have to get them in a better place ready to play, and that’s on me.”

Windhorst believes Mazzulla went too far in trying to protect his players with his post-game comments, stating that they were so “over-the-top” that they came off as “transparent.”

President of basketball operations Brad Stevens remains a strong supporter of Mazzulla, Windhorst adds. Stevens selected Mazzulla to run the team after Ime Udoka was suspended last fall and then appointed him as permanent head coach in midseason.

However, Windhorst cites a “rising expectation” that Mazzulla will become the fall guy for the disastrous playoff ending it appears the Celtics are headed toward. He was given an undisclosed contract extension when the “interim” was removed from his title in February, but the organization may decide that a 34-year-old with no prior head coaching experience isn’t the right person to run a team with championship aspirations.

The recent firings of high-profile coaches such as Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse and Doc Rivers, who have all led teams to titles, may make Mazzulla’s future even more tenuous.

Boston also has to determine this summer whether to give Jaylen Brown an extension worth more than $280MM that he qualified for by earning All-NBA honors. Brown has been particularly bad against Miami, shooting 2-of-20 from three-point range, including an 0-of-7 performance Sunday night.

Windhorst states that questions are re-emerging about whether Brown and Jayson Tatum should be the foundation of the team. It will eventually cost the Celtics more than $50MM apiece annually to keep them together, and the front office has to determine whether that’s the best pairing for the future.

Barring an unprecedented turnaround, the Celtics will enter the offseason haunted by the feeling that the team wasn’t prepared for the Game 3 challenge and quit when things got tough. Another loss Tuesday night could set the direction for a summer upheaval.

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