BOSTON — Jimmy Butler couldn’t help but smile as Grant Williams barked in his face down the court. He had every reason to smile as the buzzer sounded, and the helpless Celtics fell into a 2-0 hole after a lackluster performance in the fourth quarter. So said Jimmy Toscano after a Game 2 loss that nearly mirrored the first.
“Yes, (Grant fueled me),” Butler said. “That’s just competition at its finest. He hit a big shot, started talking to me, I liked that, I’m all for that. It makes me key in a lot more, it pushes that will that I have to win a lot more. It makes me smile. It does. When people talk to me, I’m like oh, I’m a decent player if you want to talk to me out of everybody you can talk to … I just don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to.”
“Hell nah. (Grant) wasn’t (the answer).”
Bam Adebayo walked across the Celtics logo and swung his arm toward the crowd. One minute earlier his pair of offensive rebounds, the second leading to his swinging put-back dunk, boosted the Heat ahead by five points over four minutes after Miami trailed by nine points. Gabe Vincent hit the game-sealing jumper moments later after Jayson Tatum charged into Butler.
The Heat came back quickly after Grant hit a three to build Boston’s largest lead in the fourth quarter. Butler rattled off four straight baskets inside the arc after coming face-to-face with Williams following his first turnaround bucket, drawing double technicals. Williams scored the only Celtics baskets late. Tatum struggled to create offense after not attempting a fourth quarter shot in Game 1, firing up three from far beyond the arc, including a last-second heave trailing by four points. Boston finished 1-for-6 with two turnovers — and lost 111-105.
Individuals came through for moments, then the Celtics crumbled in the clutch as a team, a series theme. Joe Mazzulla mentioned preparing for Heat runs in response to theirs, a lost message as Miami erased a 12-point second quarter lead in almost the exact manner they did two nights earlier. He started the double-big unit again and abandoned it after five first quarter minutes where it posted a -54.5 net rating.
“It’s mental, from the standpoint of, who can make the right plays at the right times? Who can make the simple plays? Who can win the details and those margins? So yeah, it’s definitely mental,” Mazzulla said.
Grant and the bench rallied the Celtics into a lead with defensive stops and blocked the ball off Adebayo out-of-bounds in the second. Malcolm Brogdon stole a Kyle Lowry pass and stepped into a pull-up three to cap a 19-2 run between quarters, while Tatum looked energized guarding the ball at the top of the key and shooting 5-for-9 in the first half.
Lowry shoved Williams plays later after he fouled Adebayo and stepped over his legs, the first dust-up, which drew no calls. Martin wiped his hands frantically after shooting an air-ball on the next possession, asking the baseline official James Williams for a call. Adebayo fed Martin for three on the next play, sending the Heat forward on his way to a 25-point night and Miami to a 54-50 lead. Vincent stole the ball back from Brown in the back court following a Duncan Robinson three and Brown started 1-for-9 in one of his slowest scoring performances all season. Martin hit a pull-up two and pumped his fist, staring at Brown as he ran back on defense.
Miami’s run extended to 28-12 into halftime as Boston found itself unable to solve the Heat’s defensive scheme nearly three years after the problem first encountering it in the Bubble. Marcus Smart threw away a pass to Robinson and Brogdon dropped another during Miami’s run that placed them ahead 54-50 into the third quarter, the Celtics finishing the night with 15 giveaways.
“They’re mixing up when to go man, when to go zone,” Brown said. “They’re trying to guard me with guys who would be obvious to attack, but they’re using the rest of the guys to help and pinch down, and making it tough to get to the basket, and also mixing up their reads in the zone. Being alert. We’ll figure it out. I’ll figure it out.”
Tatum began the second half throwing the ball right to Kevin Love as the margins, fouling, rebounding and turnovers, cost Boston a game where it shot 46.8% from the field. The Heat built a 92-79 shot advantage, Mazzulla’s constant emphasis on that category ineffective in stopping Miami from dominating it.
Derrick White blocked Butler and another defensive run led Brown and Tatum to transition layups and dunks in the third quarter. Those efforts flatlined each time, Brogdon tossing a pass off the rim and giving away the ball to Martin for an easy breakout score. Still, Tatum hit a pair of threes and fed Robert Williams III to the rim through a foul to begin the fourth, vaulting the Celtics ahead by 10 points.
Williams III subbed out after scoring three times in the opening four minutes of the fourth quarter. Grant’s appearance after not playing significant minutes since Game 5 against Philadelphia added nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. His dive for a loose ball and feed to Williams III from the corner energized Boston’s bench. Butler’s return, as Williams III stepped off the floor for the final eight minutes, ended the fun. He annihilated Grant.
Adebayo pulled Al Horford out of the paint while Robinson back cut the Celtics’ defense. Brown traveled, drove into an Adebayo block and Tatum charged, which Mazzulla decided against using a challenge on with two timeouts in hand late. Williams spun and spun in the paint before launched a miss before Butler tied the game at 100. Smart, facing pressure, turned the ball over and missed a three after Butler stole the lead. Horford, boxed out by Max Strus on the offensive glass, fouled him and awarded Miami a free throw in the bonus.
Everyone added to the collapse, and though Tatum hit five straight free throws to give the Celtics a prayer, Vincent scored on their defensive unit with Williams III back in for Brogdon. Grant played for another minute after his bad miss.
The Celtics — at a disadvantage in the clutch — granted the Heat their sixth clutch win of the playoffs and second in this series. Along with a 2-0 lead that, historically, Boston can only look to one team for inspiration of overcoming.
“It’s tough, it’s a challenge,” Tatum said. “There’s no point being up here sad and s***. They came in here and won two games, they played well, you give them credit. We’re not dead or anything, we’ve got a great opportunity, I still got the upmost confidence, everybody has the utmost confidence. We just gotta get ready for Game 3.”
“Yeah, (we can win the series).”