Inside the NBA

The Boston Celtics’ 128-102 road loss to the Miami Heat Sunday to fall behind 3-0 in their Eastern Conference Finals series was one of the more lopsided recent NBA playoff contests. The Celtics’ final lead of the game came when they were up 16-14 partway through the first quarter, and they lost every single quarter; they trailed 30-22 after the first quarter, 61-48 at the half, and 93-65 after three quarters. And their lack of physical play and apparent effort came in for particular fire, including from TNT’s postgame edition of Inside The NBA. Here’s how that started, with lots of criticism for the Celtics’ “humiliating” loss:

Host Ernie Johnson starts that with “Well, that was ugly,” with analyst Charles Barkley chiming in with a “Yep,” and Johnson continues “If you’re a Celtics’ fan especially.” Analyst Shaquille O’Neal adds a “Beatdown,” and Johnson goes on to note that it wasn’t great for neutral observers either. “Watching, just watching this one, 128-102 the final, as Miami takes a 3-0 lead…”

Johnson then compares the lack of physicality on the court unfavorably to a Barkley-O’Neal exchange on their courtside set that they showed video of. He starts with “As physical as it got tonight was when Shaq, you looked like you were very…,” then Barkley interjects “I was getting punched in the head” (but he really only took a slight elbow from O’Neal, and responded with only a slightly less slight one, and took a joking punch from Johnson as a result). O’Neal says “I was about to do some furniture moving up there, then Ernie got a shot in, the Godfather had my back.” Johnson then reads a tweet they show on screen of “Shaq and Chuck got more fight than the Celtics.”

From there, they get into some further Boston roasting, which even Barkley and O’Neal can agree on. Barkley says “I’m embarrassed as a Celtics’ fan right now,” and O’Neal chimes in “Yeah, that was bad.” Barkley says “That’s bad, man,” and O’Neal responds “Beatdown. Beatdown at the beach.” Analyst Kenny Smith asks Barkley “You’re a Celtics’ fan?” and Barkley backtracks with “I say, if you’re a Celtics’ fan, I don’t think you even mind losing. but that was humiliating.” Johnson then goes “We welcome you to Inside The NBA, presented by Kia, even though it feels a lot more like a Forensic Files episode after watching that.”

After that, O’Neal says “I’ve got a question,” Johnson responds, “You’ve got a question before we do the highlights?”, Smith asks “We’ve got to show the highlights of that thing?” and O’Neal says “Just one question. Since the Celtics quit, can we quit?” Johnson laughs and says “No,” O’Neal says “Okay,” and Johnson says “You don’t have that in you! You don’t have any quit in you.” O’Neal says “You’re right, I’m sorry,” and Johnson says “Didn’t we talk about you having played in this building, having built this building?” and O’Neal says “You’re right, you’re right, my bad.”

This then gets into jokes about O’Neal’s weight. Barkley says “I guess you mean when he’s eating, he don’t have no quit in him either,” and Smith says “Ooh, you got skinny, and you talking fat jokes all night.” O’Neal then argues “First of all, I’m skinnier than Chuck,” and Smith says “No, you’re not.” O’Neal responds “Yes, I am,” and then, 90 seconds into the show, Johnson gets Barkley to start some actual highlight commentary.

The Celtics’ loss here was criticized well beyond TNT, with even the usually-positive Magic Johnson blasting them on Twitter. But the TNT criticism was particularly notable considering how it came immediately after the game broadcast, on the same network. And it wasn’t the only fire Boston took on Inside The NBA. When the panel brought in Heat guard Gabe Vincent for an interview, and Vincent praised their opponents and said they’d be tough in Game 4, Barkley pushed back:

A big part of what has made Inside The NBA so successful, especially since the additions of Smith (1998), Barkley (2000), and O’Neal (2011), has been those analysts’ willingness to describe even bad games as bad. That honesty isn’t always present on studio shows on official game broadcasts. And long-time Inside The NBA producer Tim Kiely (currently WBD Sports’ VP, production, he’s retiring after this season) touched on that in a 2021 interview with Ken Kerschbaumer of Sports Video Group, describing how some at the NBA were initially resistant to criticism of bad games on a broadcast partner:

It was a hard sell at first because they had not seen anything like it before. When Charles first came on, we would go to halftime, and Ernie would say the score was 65-35, and then Chuck would say, “What a terrible game.” People went nuts and said, “Don’t do that.” But what saved us was Twitter. It became a new form of communication, and we needed to be on top of it and learn how to use it to our advantage.

People started tweeting that our guys were telling the truth, and everybody wanted to be part of Twitter and wanted the audience on Twitter because they were young. We had to accept the fact that, if we said it’s a great game, they would come back on Twitter and tell us we couldn’t be serious. That was the shift that allowed us to justify what we were doing.

As this particular postgame show illustrates, Inside The NBA is still doing that. And it makes for better TV than some of these games.

[Awful Announcing on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.