Celtics won’t start winning until they kick this infuriating habit

Tomase: Celtics will never win until they kick this infuriating habit originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Forget about “Unfinished Business.” Print these T-shirts for the 2023-2024 Celtics so they can wear them all summer: “Whiners aren’t Winners.”

Something has felt broken since December, when the C’s soared into Golden State intent on exacting revenge for last year’s Finals, and were instead punted to the kids’ table. For all the frustration of watching them underachieve throughout the rest of the regular season and into a 3-0 Eastern Conference Finals hole vs. the Heat, their constant complaining tops the list.

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The Celtics complain about everything, and it has officially become the most unwatchable part of their game. They complain on offense. They complain on defense. They complain under the basket while play goes the other way. They complain on the sideline during timeouts. So ingrained is complaining into their DNA, they even complain en route to the free throw line after getting the call they’re complaining about.

On Sunday night in Miami, they embarrassed themselves not just by falling behind by 33 points and quitting in the middle of a 128-102 Game 3 defeat, but with their nonstop whining.

Egregious moments abounded, from Marcus Smart getting T’d up after a made Celtics basket, to Jaylen Brown deciding not to play defense so he could squawk while the Heat drilled a 3, but for my money, the low point came on Miami’s first possession of the second quarter, when Duncan Robinson easily beat Grant Williams off the dribble and then soared over Jayson Tatum for a layup.

You’d like to see your All-NBA player provide stiffer resistance on a NESCAC guy, but Tatum’s reaction made it infinitely worse, as he waved wildly for a clear-out, a call he didn’t remotely deserve.

It was the weakest moment in a game full of them: Tatum begging the refs to do the job he could not. It shouldn’t matter if Robinson drop-kicks him in the chest. Tatum is a top-five player challenging an undrafted spot shooter at the rim. Don’t look for Tony Brothers to save you.

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But all the Celtics do is talk. Tatum flaps his arms or grabs his wrist after every reckless drive into traffic. Brown argues for foul calls at the expense of transition defense, a killer against a sharpshooting team like the Heat. Smart, the supposed heart and soul of the team, constantly lectures referees as if he’s reminding them that he’s the defending Defensive Player of the Year.

And don’t even get me started on Grant Williams, a hard-nosed player who negates his positive attributes by NEVER shutting his mouth. He’s the only player in the league who can take multiple DNP-CDs and then in his first minute back incredulously work the refs like he’s Luka or LeBron. About the only Celtic who doesn’t get consumed with the refs is Robert Williams.

The constant whining, whinging, and wheedling is more distracting than a test of the emergency broadcast system, and it highlights the lack of focus and mental toughness that has utterly destroyed the Celtics vs. the Heat. Eliminating it should be job No. 1 of whoever ends up coaching the team next year, whether it’s Joe Mazzulla or a steadier veteran hand.

All I know is it can’t continue like this. The Celtics are capable of playing the most entertaining brand of basketball in the league, but they’ve been enabled for so long, dating back to Brad Stevens, they act like a bunch of spoiled kids crying their heads off at daycare. Eventually they’ll get a juice box.

So here’s a small ask for Tuesday’s Game 4. We already know the series is over and the pressure’s off. Please give your fans one game free of histrionics and just play. You might even find you play better. Otherwise, print the T-shirts, because the only ones complaining should be us.

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