Heat 2-0 Lead Over Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals: How Miami’s Intense Weakened Boston

BOSTON – Dealing with Jimmy Butler hasn’t worked out well for the Celtics so far in this Series.

Boston was still up by seven going into the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals when Grant Williams started to loose with Butler. The exchange was very intense, their foreheads aching.

There’s a little more distance between the Miami Heat and Celtics now, though. Butler scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including the tying bucket and forward pointer on Williams, and the Heat won 111–105.

“You’ve got to win the skirmishes,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who later added, “I love that evil version of Jimmy, but you get that regardless. I just think people now pay a lot of attention to him now.”

The Heat—the eighth seed entering the playoffs—was already the fifth team in NBA history to start the postseason with first-game road wins in three straight series. They are now in the unlikely position of ending this series at home and making their first trip to the Finals since 2020. Game three is at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday in Miami.

Miami is the first road team to win the first two games of a playoff series since Dallas beat the Clippers in the 2021 first-round series.

Good news for the Celtics out there. The Clippers came back to win that series in seven. Also, Boston came back from a 0-2 hole after dropping those games at home, in the 2017 series against the Bulls. Butler was on this Chicago team. However, Boston’s comeback prospects are long. Teams going 2-0 in the Conference Finals are 6-56 in that series.

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Caleb Martin was outstanding for the Heat off the bench, posting a playoff-high 25 points. Bam Adebayo contributed 22 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists, and Duncan Robinson added 15 points off the bench.

The Celtics led by as much as 12 points in the fourth quarter. They were led by Jason Tatum’s 34 points, who didn’t make a field goal in the fourth quarter but converted five foul shots at the end. Jaylen Brown added 16 points but shot 7 of 23. Boston actually led by 12 in the first half as well, and
Committing to 15 turnovers for the game cost the Celtics 20 points.

“They played in the penalty area, but I thought we played at a better pace,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzola. “I thought Jason just made the right play, got the ball where it needed to be, whether it was him or someone else. When we didn’t turn it over, I thought we got a good look.”

Williams didn’t play in Game 1 on Wednesday and barely played in Boston’s semifinal series finale against Philadelphia, but he did return to the rotation nine points off the bench — and a struggle with Butler that proved costly.

After a nose-to-nose outbreak, which followed a good jump by Butler on Williams, Butler scored on him and then imitated that Williams was too small. Butler’s 17-footer with 2:58 left tied the game at 100, and put Miami’s 12-footer at the 2:33 mark.

“Yeah, that’s what happened,” Butler said when asked if the altercation with Williams was fueled by him. “This is just competition at its finest.”

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The Heat closed out the game at 24-9. Gabe Vincent’s miss shots put the four up with 19.3 seconds left, and after Tatum’s missed 3, Max Stross put the game out of reach with two more hits.

Vincent, Westross, Robinson, and Martin were all college undergraduates. They’ve made two NBA Finals wins.

“This story is over,” Spoelstra said. “These guys have proven themselves as both competitors and winners.”

the athleteInstant Analysis:

Celtics collapse in the fourth quarter

The Celtics seemed to be in good shape when they took a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter but the Heat responded quickly. Martin, who had grabbed momentum for his team several times throughout the game, traveled to the hoop for a bucket and Robinson dug two three-pointers in a row.

Miami dominated the rest of the game. Butler hit some big buckets, including one over the top of Williams shortly after pointing the two into his forehead as they trash-talked. Adebayo owned the glass and the Celtics offense disappeared during the final minutes.

It was a stunning home collapse to leave Boston in a 2-0 series deficit. – king

The intensity of the heat is taking the Celtics out of their comfort zone

The Celtics had the heat where they wanted it, and then the spark was lit. Joe Mazzola changed turns to bring in long-running Williams, who helped restore consistent physicality to a defense that disappeared during a disastrous third quarter in Game 1 and hit some crucial kicks at the crucial time to keep Boston ahead.

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But then, he collided with Butler literally, and it led to a walkout for the Miami star, who proceeded to bury shot after shot over Williams to erase Boston’s 12-point lead in clinching time. The Celtics missed a bunch of wide open 3s and couldn’t get the shortstops they needed, then Mazzulla elected not to call a timeout under four with about 20 seconds remaining.

That led to a wild Tatum 3 miss that put Boston into a disastrous 2-0 late spot. This was another prime example of how the Heat can push the Celtics out of their comfort zone and completely undermine their approach to the game. – Weiss

(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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