The Celtics embarrassed themselves in Game 4

That was pathetic.

Never have I seen such a lack of conviction, uninspired, failure-laden basketball. The Boston Celtics team that stood up for itself in Games 1, 2 and 3 was apparently put in a checked bag and accidentally sent to Saudi Arabia instead of back to Boston, and yet they were sent a day early. Hopefully there will be time to retrieve the luggage before Game 5.

The Celtics came out in the first half with their party hats on and their legs strapped in for the three-legged race. Apparently no one told them they had to win a basketball game before the festivities started, and they spent the next 48 minutes tripping over each other as the Dallas Mavericks made off with the birthday cake.

One team came out and decided their season wasn’t going to end tonight, and the other team acted like theirs already had. The Celtics’ 35 points in the first half were the fewest in the last two years, less than the combined output of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic in the first half alone, and less than is remotely acceptable for one of the biggest teams in the history of the NBA if they want people to keep calling them that.

NBA: Finals-Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks came out with a bat made of titanium. Role players who until now had been terrified of shooting came out and fired the catch, and Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford seemed to realize they were seven feet tall and everyone else on the Celtics wasn’t. Meanwhile they made quick, decisive moves and sharp, astute decisions – never once waiting for the game to come to them, as they had done all series; they just went out and got it.

Meanwhile, the Celtics didn’t box out, didn’t put pressure on the ball, didn’t do anything to make their opponent uncomfortable, and didn’t even throw a single curveball. The game was over in the second quarter, as the Mavericks turned the Celtics’ once formidable defense into a glorified layup line, while Boston continued to throw 78 mile-per-hour fastballs into a wall: no dribble launch, no pass , contested threes in the face of an ever-increasing deficit.

This is essentially the basketball equivalent of asking the basketball gods to make the comeback for you. It is almost impossible to climb out of a hole without threes, but they must be supplemented with relentless defensive intensity. There is no room for error, and even three-is-more-than-two math won’t create one.

But the Celtics made no extra effort. They were complacent and clearly content to send this game to USPS Priority Shipping, leave Dallas and win the NBA Finals on their home floor. And subconsciously, Boston couldn’t wait for an excuse to call it a night early.

NBA: Finals-Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

And then former NBA referee Scott Foster comes up with the perfect excuse. Service in the first two quarters was uneven. The Mavericks were given several benefits of the doubt that the Celtics were not afforded, including a ghost foul on Al Horford and no-call after no-call on Boston’s drives.

And the Celtics took that excuse and ran for the exit. Somewhere around the start of the second quarter, they decided the referees had rigged the game against them. They hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. Suddenly, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were thinking about no-calls before they even finished their attempts at the rim, and wouldn’t you know it: the ball refused to go in. There was no follow-up, just whining and disbelief – both at their own failure and at this Horrible, faked and quite frankly disrespectful on duty.

And so the Celtics went about beating themselves, posting announcements everywhere that this game would be available for free, plus shipping. The Mavericks took them up on the offer and won every facet of the game.

Boston’s entitlement undoubtedly came from their recognition that they have a home game 5 in their back pocket, but they managed to cash in on their hall pass for a game they can learn nothing from. Other than still being 3-1 up, there are no silver linings, no teachable moments and nothing to build on.

In the meantime, they’ve given Dallas hope, and enough to take in their carry-on to Boston. Maybe this is just one long con to lure an overconfident Mavericks team to Boston before crushing their souls and hoisting the trophy in front of their home fans. But all I saw was a team that didn’t want to go to work that night. That is unacceptable when so much is at stake.