On Friday, after his postgame interview and taking a 2-0 series lead, Jimmy Butler was still talking. The 111-105 victory in Miami showed Butler’s usual brilliance: 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a series of clutch shots that helped the Heat erase a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter. On his way to the Heat locker room, Butler gave a message to the shocked fans within earshot.
“No way,” Butler said. “No more WAYS they think that’s the answer.”
that, presumably, was Boston’s decision to play Grant Williams, a tough, versatile defender who was a DNP-CD in the Eastern Conference finals series opener. Williams played early, coming off the bench in the first quarter and knocking down three three-pointers in the first half. Midway through the fourth, Williams hit another three that stretched the Celtics’ lead to nine. When he got on the floor, Williams started talking to Butler. After Butler fouled Williams on the next possession, the two went nose-to-nose.
On the next possession, Butler hit a floater that cut the lead to four. A few plays later, a 17-footer tied it. After Gabe Vincent’s steal, Butler hit a 12-foot fadeaway that gave the Heat a lead they could never regain.
“I feel like he’s starting [altercations]”said Bam Adebayo, “so it will get him more than the competition.”
“It makes me want more,” Butler said. “It drives that will that I have to win more.”
“I respect him,” Butler said. “I just don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to.”
Butler won his battle with Williams. “I love that gnarly version of Jimmy,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. And Miami won another game against Boston. Two games into this series and the Celtics look like the eight seed is on a run as well and the Heat are the prohibitive favorites. Jayson Tatum scored 34 points but did not throw in the fourth quarter. Jaylen Brown needed 23 shots to get his 16 points. Through two games, Al Horford is 1-for-8 from three-point territory.
In Game 1, Boston was outscored 46–25 in the third quarter.
In Game 2, the Celtics were outscored 36-22 in the fourth.
“I thought we got good looks,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. “Just don’t think we made them.”
Made in Miami. Caleb Martin scored 25 points. When Martin checked in, Boston moved Robert Williams to defend him. It’s a strategy that worked last season when the two teams met in the conference finals. It didn’t work on this one. Martin made 11 of his 16 shots, which Williams lost when he came out to defend him.
“One thing Caleb told me was, ‘It wasn’t last year,'” Adebayo said. “It really resonated with me because they did the same thing to him last year. I felt that he felt disrespected. “
Max Strus scored 11 points. In the first quarter, former Celtics center Tacko Fall was shown on the Jumbotron at TD Garden. Moments later, Strus knocked down a three. In 2019, Boston chose Fall over Strus for its final roster spot. Strus later signed with the Heat and played 80 games this season. Well.
Duncan Robinson scored 15. “Next man up” is an often used cliché in the NBA. Every team wants to be plug-and-play. It’s Miami. Robinson, a starter during the Heat’s march to the 2020 Finals, played in 42 games this season. He started with just one. He was inactive for all but two games in January. He was out of the rotation in March. When Tyler Herro went down in the first round with a hand injury, Robinson stepped in. A noted sharpshooter, Robinson made three three-pointers in Game 2, but it was his three drives to the rim that impressed Spoelstra.
“Now it’s been two years of development,” Spoelstra said. “The scouting report is to do anything and everything to get him off the three-point line. So he’s been working diligently on that for two offseasons … really working on his off-ball movement, a lot action at the rim and putting the ball on the floor. I can’t even talk about how many drives he worked on during the offseason over and over again, and still did his normal shooting routine because that’s creates extreme reactions.
Adebayo is a force. Boston had no answer for him. He collected 20 points and eight rebounds in Game 1. He had 22 points and 17 rebounds in Game 2, one assist shy of a triple double. Williams couldn’t corral him. Horford, who skillfully slowed down Joel Embiid in the previous round, couldn’t either. On Friday, Adebayo had eight points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter alone.
Then, there’s Butler. Boston did a creditable job of defending him early. After getting burned from three-point range in Game 1, the Celtics mostly defended Butler one-on-one, mixing up the defenders in front of him. But Butler, as he has done all postseason, imposed his will in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points in eight minutes. When the final buzzer sounded, Butler patted Adebayo on the head and asked, “That’s the answer to Jimmy Butler’s problem?”
“I think our game plan was pretty simple in the fourth quarter, if I’m brutally honest,” Butler said. “It’s like, ‘Give me the ball and move,’ and I’m tasked with making the right play. Sometimes I shoot the ball. Usually, I shoot the ball. A lot of times, it’s going to pass to the open man. “
The Celtics were not discouraged on Friday. Grant Williams insists he won’t back down from Butler. “I’m going to keep fighting,” Williams said. “He’s going to have to make every single tough shot the rest of the series.”
Tatum believes there are positives to take away if the series moves to Miami.
“I mean, there’s no point in being here all sad and s—, right?” Tatum said. “We’re not dead or anything. We have a great opportunity. I still have the most confidence, everyone has the most confidence. We’re just getting ready for Game 3.”
They are better. Miami is not the 44-win team from the regular season. Not the lifeless bunch that lost the first play-in game on its home court. The Heat are battle tested after many close games in the regular season and the physicality of the playoffs suits them.
They are ready to play on Sunday.
Boston is better too.