Celtics Hit Another Dead End, With No Clear Path Forward This Time


But in the regular season, the Celtics fell into stretches of lackadaisical, head-scratching play, as when they blew a 28-point lead to the Nets in March. That carried over into the playoffs: Against the Heat, the Celtics routinely blew double-digit leads. Yet they still clawed their way to the doorstep of the N.B.A. finals.

“It’s something that continues to happen,” Celtics center Al Horford said of the team’s shifting performances. “It’s a pattern that happens with us. We’re going to have to do some soul-searching there, because some things have to change in that regard.”

For some, the verdict is clear: Swings like that are not good enough. Mazzulla, with his penchant for not calling timeouts and guiding the Celtics to flat efforts like Monday night’s, isn’t the right person for the job.

To those who like their glasses half full, Mazzulla’s first year as coach, without a full off-season to prepare, was impressive. He hastily put together a system that led to the second-best offense and defense in the N.B.A. Tatum and Brown had their best seasons. As for suggestions that his inexperience made him unfit for the job, Mazzulla will now have a year of experience, a deep playoff run under his belt and a full off-season to make changes. And his biggest star offered his support on Monday.

“I think Joe did a great job — we won 50-some odd games,” Tatum said. “ We got to Game 7, conference finals. Obviously, everybody can be better, learn from this. But I think Joe did a great job.”

Some of this decision-making about roster construction before next season may not be up to Boston at all. The team doesn’t have cap space or particularly valuable draft picks. Brown, who made the All-N.B.A. second team this year, is a free agent after next season. He is eligible for a contract extension worth close to $300 million if he chooses to stay with the Celtics, an amount no other team can offer him.

Boston’s biggest roster problem is that under the N.B.A.’s new collective bargaining agreement, higher spending teams face more restrictions in building their rosters. This means that keeping Tatum and Brown together may be close to impossible for the Celtics, even if they want to continue to build around them.


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