An all-time stunner of an NBA Finals, and is Joe Mazzulla on the hot seat? Plus: All-Star updates

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If you want a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals to watch, you better fire up the Hardwood Classics series.

Grab Your Brooms

Miami makes Boston quit Game 3

At some point, people must learn to not antagonize Jimmy Butler. Fueling his fire by even slightly celebrating or talking a little too much trash is playing a dangerous game.

Grant Williams learned this Friday after making a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of Game 2, talking trash to Butler, fouling him on the next play and going forehead-to-forehead afterward. Boston held a 96-87 lead after Williams’ 3-pointer. Butler then scored nine of Miami’s next 15 points as the Heat notched a 111-105 Game 2 win and two road victories in Boston.

In Sunday’s Game 3, Butler delayed his reaction to trolling. Miami kicked Boston’s ass in every single way. In fact, as a third-quarter Heat run pushed their lead to 30, Butler made a callback. A Gabe Vincent 3-pointer put Miami up by 23 before Butler knelt to the ground and made a timeout motion while staring right at Al Horford, who’d done that gesture after a big shot by Boston in Game 1.

The Celtics flat-out quit last night – both in their 128-102 Game 3 loss and on their season. They showed zero fight after the game’s first few minutes. Their season is over despite them legally having games scheduled. Butler has dominated them. Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo mopped the floor with them. Vincent, Caleb Martin and Max Strus also keep destroying them.

The 8-seed Heat are about to sweep the Celtics and make the NBA Finals for the second time in four years. Going into Game 4, the Celtics probably already have their vacation flights booked. Erik Spoelstra is the best coach in basketball.

Denver bursts LA’s bubble

The Heat aren’t the only team poised to sweep its opponent. The Nuggets went up 3-0 on the Lakers Saturday night with another monster performance from their dynamic duo: Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. Everybody wonders where D’Angelo Russell’s game has gone, whether LeBron James can take over at any moment or if Anthony Davis can battle the Nuggets interior. But Denver’s one-two punch has been too much. 

When Murray took over Game 2, we awaited the Lakers’ response for a Game 3 win. Instead, Murray came out early in Game 3 and put that one to bed. He dropped 30 of his game-high 37 points in the first half, obliterating any defense thrown his way. It was a great carryover from Game 2’s fourth quarter. Then, as things slowed down for Murray in Game 3, Jokić emerged from foul trouble and sealed it by scoring 15 of his 24 in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets won 119-108.

Teams are 0-149 all-time when trailing a seven-game series 0-3. And I won’t pretend there’s a chance for either losing team to make history here. Both the Lakers and Celtics are screwed. The Lakers can take a game but don’t have enough for a historic Denver collapse, even if there wasn’t a writers’ strike in Hollywood. The Lakers’ great defense can’t stop the Nuggets from making 3-pointers. Everything LA did in round two against the Splash Brothers is null and void. The Nuggets’ impressive defense continues to be more and more solidified.

We’re on the brink of a Nuggets-Heat NBA Finals – a 1 seed against an 8 seed. And it’s going to be brilliant basketball.

Let’s check in with Shams.

The Latest From Shams

All-Star adjustments abound?

In case you missed it, over the weekend, Mike Vorkunov and I reported on a major change – or a change back – to the NBA’s All-Star Game format.

The NBA is considering altering the All-Star Game format from the current player draft back to Eastern versus Western Conference, among other concepts, sources briefed on discussions have told The Athletic.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Changes to the All-Star Game format have been discussed at recent Board of Governor and general manager meetings.
  • The NBA and NBPA agreed in recent months to discuss increased competitiveness in the All-Star Game as part of a new collective bargaining agreement, sources said. These fixes could come for the 2023-24 season.
  • Prior to 2018, the All-Star Game was East versus West. During all six games under the player draft format, LeBron James has captained one of the teams.

The All-Star Game will return to Indianapolis in 2024. It will be the city’s first time hosting the event since 1985.

Back to you, Zach!

Another Hot Seat?

Is Joe Mazzulla keeping his job?

The discourse around Boston’s disappointing conference finals effort and the blame being thrown at coach Joe Mazzulla has been fascinating. Mazzulla was placed into a chaotic situation once Ime Udoka departed in the fall. Almost instantly, the Celtics handled it well and cruised to first out East for much of the season. Mazzulla looked like the wunderkind who would coach the Celtics for a very long time. 

Then, things slightly waned towards the end of the season. By the playoffs, Boston curiously struggled to put away an inconsistent Hawks team in the first round and had a 3-2 second-round series hole against the 76ers.

Mazzulla, in his first conference finals as head coach, then found himself going brain-to-brain with Erik Spoelstra. This is Spoelstra’s third conference finals in four years – all against Boston. Mazzulla has been embarrassed in this series. Is it enough to cost him his job?

Mazzulla took blame for Boston’s Game 3 debacle. When asked what happened, he said:

“I just didn’t have them ready to play. Whatever it was. Whether it was the starting lineup or an adjustment, I have to get them in a better place ready to play. That’s on me.”

He also admitted to losing the locker room.

“Yeah, it’s why I need to be better to figure out what this team needs.”

Though Mazzulla has been bad, the coach is easiest to blame. What about the players? Gabe Vincent has kicked Marcus Smart’s butt. Jaylen Brown has scored 50 points on 61 shots. Omer Yurtseven has more fourth-quarter baskets than Jayson Tatum in this series. The players have flat-out sucked.

Yes, Mazzulla must prepare them to play, but can’t players muster their own urgency? Coaches are easy to blame and even easier to replace. Maybe Brad Stevens won’t go that far with Mazzulla after one season, but the city of Boston is out for the blood of a scapegoat. Most recent Coach of the Year winners have been fired. One who gets swept by the 8 seed in the conference finals could be next.

Bounce Passes

Michael Malone has been patient with Jamal Murray’s revival – look at Denver now.

Could Orlando move up in the draft for Scoot Henderson?

The Nuggets and Heat are the anti-super teams refreshing the Finals.

Markelle Fultz got his bounce back this season, and it’s fun for Orlando.

Keith Parish and Dave DuFour react to Miami’s Game 3 win over Boston.

(Top photo: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

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