After the Celtics coughed up a 17-point lead and lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Heat last Thursday, emotions spilled into the locker room, with shouting matches revealing a high level of frustration and unease.
Conversations continued that night and resumed the next day, and it was unclear whether the season was on the brink of collapse, or whether these talks would help put the Celtics back on the right path before it was too late.
Marcus Smart, the Celtics' fiery guard, was at the center of the discussions, and it became obvious to him that the situation would be more therapeutic than alarming.
“I would have been more worried after that Game 2 loss if everyone was calm, cool, and collected,” Smart said Monday, speaking publicly for the first time since the incident. "That would have been a problem.
"I hate losing more than I love winning. I play with a lot of people who feel the same way, so for us to be able to express that, to get it out, and to build that type of energy for ourselves [was productive].
“You have to bring a different type of energy for yourself and your teammates, so for us to be able to find that fuel to get us back on the right track was something important. So the fact that we were able to have those conversations in the locker room let me know, personally, that we were going to be all right and we were going to get back on the right track.”
On Saturday, the Celtics stormed to a 117-106 win over Miami to pull within 2-1 in this best-of-seven series.
Smart said it was important for him to be able to express his frustrations with his teammates, but he added that it was important for him to listen to their concerns, too. He said that when he was younger, that pushback would have affected him negatively. But now he appreciates the constructive dialogue that might help him understand his own faults.
“At the end of the day, we can fight with each other, and nobody else can,” Smart said. “It happens between families, especially a family like ours who has been together so long.
"It’s going to happen. We’ve got a lot of guys who play with their feelings on their sleeves.”
In the Celtics' first two playoff series, games were played every other day. But now they are in the midst of an unusual three-day break because the NBA chose to avoid battling “Monday Night Football” for viewers.
On the one hand, it could stall the Celtics' momentum a bit after their emphatic win in Game 3. But there are potential benefits, too.
“For us, it’s a blessing right now,” Smart said. “We’ve got Gordon Hayward back. He’s dealing with an injury. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, so it just really gives us an opportunity for our bodies to re-heal and rejuvenate and get ready for a grind in Game 4 and try to even this series.”
Coach Brad Stevens said he was not concerned about the layoff, in part because Miami has the same schedule. But he said it has felt a bit eerie around the once-bustling Disney World campus now that there are just four teams left.
In 2016, Celtics rookie Grant Williams led Providence Day to a 67-53 win over High Point Christian in a North Carolina high school state championship game. The stage might be bigger now, but that at least gave him some early bragging rights on High Point Christian star Bam Adebayo, who is now an All-Star for the Heat.
“We always tease each other, or I tease him more so, because I’m always like, ‘Yeah, what’s the record in our career?’ ” Williams said. “But then next thing you know, he’s done a good job of getting that thing back to even. I don’t know what it is now.
"But it’s definitely an experience that it’s cool to be able to be in this position with him, playing against him. And moving forward, whoever makes it, you’ve got to give a pat on the back to the other man.”
Adebayo is averaging 22 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in this series. He also made the biggest play, swatting Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt at the end of Game 1 to secure a Miami win.
Williams said his game is hardly recognizable now.
“He’s improved so much,” Williams said. “Back when he was younger, he was someone you could predict where he was going, try to take a charge or be in a position.
"But now you’ve kind of got to guard him, guard a lot of different things. His hook shot with his right hand, he’s explosive going both ways. He’s able to not only just physically muscle his way through, but also athletically I think he moves a little better than he used to.”