BOSTON — The nose tackle with Jimmy Butler hasn’t worked out well for the Celtics so far in this series.
Boston was still up by seven in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference finals when Grant Williams started to jaw with Butler. The exchange was so intense that their foreheads touched.
There’s a little more distance between the Miami Heat and Celtics now. Butler scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including a tying and go-ahead bucket on Williams, and the Heat won 111-105.
“You’ve got to win fights,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who later said: “I like that bad version of Jimmy, but you get it regardless. I think people are paying more attention to him now.
The Heat — who enter the playoffs as the eighth seed — already became the fifth team in NBA history to begin a postseason with three consecutive road Game 1 victories. They now end the series at home and are in a position to miss out on their first trip to the finals since 2020. Game 3 is Sunday in Miami at 8:30 p.m.
In the 2021 first-round series, Miami became the first road team to win the first two games of a playoff series after Dallas took the first two games against the Clippers.
Good news for the Celtics out there. The Clippers came back to win the series in seven. Also, in the 2017 series against the Bulls, Boston came back from an 0-2 hole after dropping those games at home. Butler was on that Chicago team. The odds for a Boston comeback are long. Teams down 2-0 in the conference finals are 6-56 in the series.
Caleb Martin excelled in the Heat off the bench, hitting a playoff career high with 25 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists, and Duncan Robinson added 15 points off the bench.
The Celtics led by 12 points in the fourth quarter. They were led by 34 points from Jayson Tatum, who didn’t make a field goal in the fourth quarter, but eventually converted five foul shots. Jaylen Brown added 16 points, but was 7-for-23. Boston actually led by 12 in the first half.
The Celtics committed 15 turnovers for a game that cost them 20 points.
“They played in the zone, but I thought we played at a better pace,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I thought Jason made the right play, got the ball where it needed to go, whether it was him or the guys. When we didn’t turn it over, I thought we had good looks.
Williams didn’t play in Game 1 on Wednesday and barely played in the finale of Boston’s semifinal series against Philadelphia, but he returned to the rotation for nine points off the bench — and the tangle with Butler proved costly.
When Butler went nose-to-nose wide following a nice jumper on Williams, Butler beat him and then mimicked that Williams was too small. Butler’s 17-footer with 2:58 left tied the game at 100, and he put Miami up with a 12-footer with 2:33 left.
“Yes it did,” Butler said when asked if the clue with Williams motivated him. “It’s a very good match.”
The Heat finished the game on a 24-9 run. Gabe Vincent’s foul shots made it four with 19.3 seconds left, and after Tatum missed a 3, Max Struss put the game out of reach with two more foul shots.
Vincent, Struss, Robinson, and Martin all didn’t drop out of college. All those two wins in the NBA Finals.
“That storyline is over,” Spoelstra said. “Those guys have proven themselves to be competitors and winners.”
The Celtics’ fourth-quarter slump
The Celtics appeared to be in great shape when they took a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Heat responded quickly. Martin, who paced his team several times throughout the game, drove the hoop for a bucket and Robinson drilled two consecutive 3-pointers.
Miami dominated the rest of the game. Butler hit some big buckets, including one over Williams shortly after the two went head-to-head and trash-talked. Adebayo owned the glass and the Celtics offense disappeared in the final minutes.
It was a shocking home collapse to leave Boston in a 2-0 series deficit. – King
The Heat’s intensity pushes the Celtics out of their comfort zone
The Celtics kept the Heat where they wanted them, and then the spark was lit. Joe Mazzulla brought Williams into his rotations for extended minutes, helping him bring back the consistency on defense that was missing during Game 1’s disastrous third quarter and hitting some key spots to put Boston ahead in crunch time.
But then he actually butted heads with Butler, which set off the Miami superstar, who proceeded to bury shot after shot over Williams to erase Boston’s 12-point lead in crunch time. The Celtics missed a bunch of wide-open 3s and couldn’t get the stops they needed, then Mazzulla chose not to finish the four with about 20 seconds left.
That led to a wild Tatum 3 that missed and put Boston in a disastrous 2-0 spot. It was another prime example of how the intensity of the Heat pushed the Celtics out of their comfort zone and elevated their entire approach to the game. – Weiss
(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)