As it turns out, the Boston Celtics are better with the help of Marcus Smart and Al Horford.
The Defensive Player of the Year and one-time Defensive Lineman put on a stifling defensive performance in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Celtics offense matched it. The Miami Heat lost Boston’s first half this time, 127-102, but didn’t respond in the third quarter.
Game 3 on Saturday, the series tied 1-1 on the way to Boston.
“I’m excited,” Smart told ESPN Radio after the win. “I feel so bad I can’t be there [in Game 1] Go to battle with my teammates. We’re playing against a really good Miami Heat team, and it’s a blessing to be on the same court with them. It was tough not to play, but I got a rest, got fit, watched and saw some things, and came out and executed the game. “
Miami’s 18-8 start in the first quarter worried the Celtics, who were bullied in the second half of Game 1. But Boston closed the game with a 60-21 victory over the Heat in the next 18 minutes.
The Celtics made 9 of their first 11 3-pointers, setting a postseason playoff record. After his dismal first game, Jaylen Brown scored 11 of his 24 points in the first quarter, converting all of his three long-range attempts. Not even Jayson Tatum’s two early fouls could slow the Celtics, who outscored Miami 20-4 from the bench in the final four minutes of the first quarter.
Tatum scored 17 of his 27 points in the second quarter, almost tying the Heat on his own.
“Me and Al, we settle down when things get a little hot for us,” Smart added. “I’ve been doing this with Al for a while. We’ve been doing it the longest on this team. We know what’s needed and it’s going to take it all. We’ve got to help Jaylen and Jason. They’re putting a lot of pressure on them, and rightfully so; they’ve won that and we have to come in and help them.”
Boston led 70-45 at the half, when the difference between their 59/63/100 shooting and Miami’s 41/32/43 looked even more lopsided. The Celtics’ top defense stifled the Heat in the third quarter of Game 1, scoring 16 points on eight turnovers in two quarters.
Jimmy Butler attempted to spark another comeback in the third quarter, scoring 16 of his 29 points in the third quarter, but his Miami teammates were unable to follow his lead. His 3-pointer cut Boston’s lead to 82-65 with 3:46 left in the third, but the Celtics pulled it back to 25 by the end of the quarter.
To make matters worse, the Heat lost PJ Tucker to a knee contusion at 7:28 of the third quarter. They’re already without starting point guard Kyle Lowry, whose left hamstring has sidelined him in eight of Miami’s last 10 games. How quickly the fortunes of the two teams changed from game to game.
The Heat starter never played in the fourth quarter. Smart had 24 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 rebounds when Celtics head coach Ime Udoka pulled the remaining starters away with less than 6 minutes left. Scores of steals and lock-up defense left the game. Horford added 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting for his defensive versatility, and the all-out Celtics once again looked like the best team in the East.
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