MIAMI — The Boston Celtics appeared to be having some trouble in the first few minutes of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
They let Miami’s shooters open three quick 3-pointers. They gave the Heat multiple second chances. Robert Williams Defending in space looked uncomfortable, and Miami kept making him — and Boston — pay.
However, at 5:14 of the first quarter, Grant Williams Check into the game. And, since then, the game — and the series — has fundamentally changed.
Boston completely burned Miami in the final 17 minutes of the first half, going 57-27, and Williams never left the field to win 127-102 in front of the crowd at FTX Arena.
The win tied the series in one game.
“He just [has come] He’s still a long way from his first year,” the Celtics forward said. Jayson TatumWhen it comes to Grant Williams, he leads the Celtics with 27 points. “He’s been playing hard and he’s grown into someone we believe and trust to catch the ball in the half court.
“He saw an opening, took it to the hole, hit the right ball. That’s what he did.”
Boston expressed calm confidence in its ability to bounce back in less than 48 hours between the end of its first loss to Miami on Tuesday night and the end of its second game on Thursday. The Celtics could have won three of four quarters in Game 1, but lost the game by being beaten 39-14 in a truly disastrous third quarter.
They also got a pair of starters back Marcus Smart and Al Horfordwho missed their first game with a midfoot sprain and participation in NBA health and safety protocols, respectively.
But things didn’t really work out for the Celtics until Boston left the starting five midway through the first quarter of the five-man lineup that had dominated the season. The Celtics were starting to get back into trouble after a quick timeout by Ime Udoka, but it was Grant Williams — who started the first four games — who came to the scene and injected the rockets into Boston’s game on both ends of the floor. fuel.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t know how to respond,” Heat Center Bam Adebayo said.
Suddenly, the Celtics were flying around on both ends of the court. They spaced the offense and shot just 9 of 11 from 3-point range in the first quarter. They scrambled to charge Miami’s shooters, forcing them to go 2-for-8 in the final minutes of the first half and 3-for-15 in the final 20 minutes of the first half.
By the time the damage was done, Boston was up 70-45 at halftime, and the final 24 minutes were little more than basic practice to make sure the series got back to Boston.
“Great spacing,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said of why these lineups are so effective. “We have to attack some of the games we want and have Adebayor and [PJ] Tucker and some of them. Obviously, with Rob on the floor, he’s got things he’s good at, but he’s got some limitations and distance on the court.
“We saw success against Milwaukee and Brooklyn, where Al and Grant have a lineup that allows them to distance, and we can attack in a variety of ways. So [it created] A lot of open shots, a lot of open threes and he started but also opened the lane for our drivers. “
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Smart is back with a solid performance on both ends of the floor. While he’s known for his defense and earned plaudits by snapping up the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year earlier this month, his offense — especially his calming impact on Boston — was missed by 1 in the game. .
With their point guard back on the floor, the Celtics went from 19 turnovers in Game 1 to 10 in Game 2 for a total of nine points. Meanwhile, Smart had just one turnover in 40 minutes and had 24 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.
Meanwhile, the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field and attempted 20 of 40 3-pointers.
“[I take] A lot of pride,” Smart said of his point guard. “That’s what I’ve been doing my entire career. That’s what I was chosen to do here. I’m just waiting for my turn. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to go out there and show what I can do, and I think everyone in the organization, in the world, is seeing what I can do at that point guard position. “
Boston’s dominance in the first half wasn’t just on offense, and it’s no coincidence that Smart and Horford, one of their most versatile defensive big men, are back on the court.
According to ESPN Stats and Information Research, Miami went 0-for-4 with four turnovers in a dominant first half when Horford was the primary defender.Meanwhile, Smart was the last defender on the field Jimmy Butler – Destroyed Boston with Smart out in Game 1 – Butler was on the floor in 28 of 46 games. When Smart guarded Butler, he only took four shots.
While Butler had a solid run in the other game, scoring 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting, he made just eight free throws compared to his 18 in Game 1.
“Jimmy’s a warrior, man,” Smart said. “Jimmy has been doing this for a long time. He knows the game. He knows his strengths. He knows the strengths of the team. So when you have a guy with an IQ like Jimmy’s, it’s always a tough game.
“For me, my job is to make everything tough for him. We know he’s going to hit some balls. If he does, he has to work for them. That’s where I come in.”
The result was Miami scrambling to pick up the pieces. The Heat have now won a single quarter in the first eight games of the series — the decisive third quarter of Game 1 — and have scored more than 36 points in the other seven.
to make things worse, PJ Tucker Left the court with a left knee contusion in the third quarter and didn’t return — and Kyle Lowry He missed his fourth straight game with a strained left hamstring.
“Ask him,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said of Tucker. “He’s fine.”
Boston knows its work is far from done. The Celtics alternated the first six games of the Eastern Conference semifinals with the Milwaukee Bucks, finally ending the series with a second straight win in Game 7 on Sunday.
But with Game 3 back in Boston on Saturday night, the Celtics fully realized they didn’t have the same luxury this time around against the top-seeded Heat.
“They were trying to embarrass us,” Butler said. “They did embarrass us. So I think we have to be aware – use it as fuel, whatever you want to say – but realize that as long as you play against a very good team like them, the game is Will get out of control, can score and stop.
“We have a tough job to do to get there and win. But if they do it, we can do it too.”