The Boston Celtics are all but dead in the water — and this is great

The Boston Celtics stare down a 3-0 deficit and they might as well already be dead in the water, but there is reason for borderline-nuts celebration anyway (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
The Boston Celtics stare down a 3-0 deficit and they might as well already be dead in the water, but there is reason for borderline-nuts celebration anyway (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images) /

The 2022-23 Boston Celtics season isn’t over, but it’s on life support.

But it’s not the fun kind of life support where the doctors are cautiously optimistic, discussing options with the fan base and working through the next steps after this setback. It’s the really unfun kind where everyone involved with this team is gathering at its bedside, preparing for the worst and angling for a position in the will when the executor divvies up the estate.

And this is great.

Some may still be holding out a shred of hope, but the prognosis is grim. The season is never over until it’s over, but I’ve already begun sequencing the strain of M.H.I.S.S. (Miami Heat-Induced Shell Shock) that is more than likely going to spell doom for the Boston Celtics’ otherwise promising season. Do you want the short version or the long version?

Here’s the short version: the Heat shot a nuclear 53% from three-point land in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Celtics shot 26% from the very same land, putting whatever nuclear reactor they were cooking with into a full meltdown and rendering the entire three-point land uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years.

It is impossible to win a basketball game with that large a discrepancy from beyond the arc. When combined with shooting over 56% from the field, that level of efficiency is more akin to a buzz-saw than a mathematical statistic.

Game set.

Now for the long version: none of that numerical insanity remotely excuses the abomination of a basketball game that the Boston Celtics just produced with their season effectively on the line. They were getting buried under an avalanche of threes, but even in the most dire situations, the players had a choice as to how they responded. And about midway through the first quarter, they came up with the only two wrong answers:

1. This is the referees’ fault

2. We cannot possibly win this basketball game

I have written about the role of belief in basketball ad nauseam, particularly with how the force of believing in one’s own ability to win zapped back and forth throughout the semifinals against Philadelphia. Game 5 saw the Celtics completely give up hope of winning down the stretch. But then in Game 6 and 7, Tatum grabbed every shred of belief from the 76ers and never for a moment gave it back.

I’m going to make one thing abundantly clear: a referee cannot decide a basketball game. But teams convince themselves that they can, and end up rigging the game against themselves.

Last night, once the Boston Celtics fell down by 10, they began flailing their arms like children after every turnover, begging for foul calls that weren’t coming. And as Miami poured on points in the second and third quarters, rather than responding with the rabid tenacity required to overcome such a barrage, the Celtics players unconsciously decided the referees were not going to allow them to win.

And suddenly—and probably without even realizing it—the Heat pounced on the biggest opening in sports: a team that doesn’t believe they can win. I’ve been perplexed so far as to how so many cast-off role players could produce such alarming 3-point efficiency, but in Game 3 was crystal clear why. They took one, maybe two looks at the Celtics, and all unconsciously thought the same thing: They’re going to give this to us. All we have to do is try to take it. 

And even though Miami held three losses in their pocket—a spot any other team of mortals would have come into with just a little less than a full tank of gas—they slammed on the accelerator, taking every shot in rhythm and with no fear whatsoever. Because it didn’t even matter if they went in.

When Charles Barkley ranted for three solid minutes at halftime about the Celtics’ lack of mental toughness, he was right, but that doesn’t quite explain the total carnage when Games 1 and 2 saw a modicum of fight. But the specter of a 3-0 deficit saw this fragile team looking for excuses.

Within that fragility, the Boston Celtics unconsciously put their heart up for auction, and the Heat role players took turns upping the highest bid. Every 3-ball that went down drove a spike into it until Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson were walking home with chunks of our souls in their backpacks.

You probably thought I was being sarcastic earlier when I said this was all great, but I assure you I am being completely serious. Because now, it just doesn’t matter. A 3-0 deficit is a death sentence, but it’s also kind of beautiful.

Winning the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals would make the Boston Celtics immortal

Nothing else can go wrong, and nothing more is expected of us. Losing the series is a forgone conclusion, but wonderfully, that means winning it makes you immortal. There are only two outcomes: one is expected, and the other would win you eternal glory. It’s great.

When you are trapped between oblivion and immortality, the only thing left to do is fight it. It’s officially absurd to have hope, and utterly insane to actually believe. But in this hilarious and probably overdramatic Nihilist space, all that is encouraged!

Because it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!

Choosing to end this glorified mental breakdown with a direct reference to Bill Murray’s epic speech—where he emphatically chants “it just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!…” over and over again—from the movie Meatballs (1979) was a hard choice. So in the spirit of insanity, I leave you with a list of every single pop or not-at-all-pop culture reference I considered in its place:

“It just doesn’t matter!” (Bill Murray in Meatballs, 1979)

“Do not go gentle into that good night” (Dylan Thomas, 1951)

“Because I could not stop for death” (Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886)

“I am inevitable…” (Thanos in Avengers: Endgame)

“It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than two meters.” (Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope)