Boston Celtics: Ime Udoka Had the Perfect Answer for Why His Team Had an Early Meltdown in Game 3

Boston Celtics fans should find zero consolation that their team has outplayed the Miami Heat in six of the eight quarters of their two losses. The bottom line is the favored Celtics find themselves trailing the series 2-1 entering Monday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics have had two serious meltdowns, one in Game 1 and another Saturday night in Game 3. Head coach Ime Udoka explained things perfectly when asked about his team’s most recent breakdown.

The Boston Celtics had another ugly quarter that led to another loss

Head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics reacts in the third quarter against the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 21, 2022, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Elsa/Getty Images.

The Celtics dug themselves another hole and couldn’t make their way out of it — again. Four days after playing their ugliest quarter of the postseason, the Celtics outdid themselves.

During Game 1 against the Heat, the short-handed Celtics, playing without Marcus Smart and Al Horford, fell apart right after halftime. After playing a strong first half on the road that led to a 62-54 Boston halftime lead, the Celtics did whatever they could to let the game get away.

The eight-point lead quickly disappeared as the fired-up Heat opened the third quarter on a 22-2 run. Boston turned the ball over on numerous occasions, including six times alone in the third quarter by three-time All-Star Jayson Tatum. The Heat got tough, and the Celtics wilted.

“We got out-toughed, out-physicaled,” Udoka said postgame, per CLNS Media. “They looked like they wanted to come out in the second half and up their physicality and aggression on both ends. They did that. We had eight of our 16 turnovers in that quarter.”

It was deja vu to begin Saturday’s game. In their first home game of the series, the Celtics looked like they didn’t want to be there. The Celtics trailed by 21 points after the first quarter, and the lead swelled to as much as 25 points in the second quarter.

Ime Udoka had the perfect answer to why the Celtics struggled early in Game 3

The Celtics have been to the Eastern Conference Finals four times in the last six years. Their seasons have stalled there each time. They have not been to the NBA Finals since 2010. Maybe they’ve been outclassed, or maybe they just don’t have what it takes to get to the next level.

The Celtics entered the series with the Heat as the clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2022 NBA Finals. They haven’t shown why.

Consistency has been a major problem, especially with their star players. Tatum has been erratic. He’s had his share of 30-point games in the postseason, including a 46-point effort against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6, a game he dominated from start to finish. He’s also had two dreadful 10-point efforts in a two-week span. Brown finished with 40 points Saturday but led the way with seven of Boston’s 23 turnovers.

Boston’s problems appear to be fixable — stop being careless with the ball and show effort for 48 minutes. Then again, maybe the Celtics’ stars don’t have that mental toughness to push them over the hump. Tatum spends more time complaining to referees than he does getting back on defense. It’s the little things that make a big difference when the stakes are this high.

“It looked like they wilted under the pressure, started complaining to the refs, and took us out of the game from the start,” Udoka said after Game 3. “Disappointed to come out that flat in a conference finals game.”

The Celtics will go as far as their stars will take them. It’s become evident that they need more than just three quarters out of them.

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