MIAMI — The Celtics delivered a good ol’ fashioned tail-whooping in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, but Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler isn’t ready to put the lopsided loss behind him just yet.
“I don’t like to move on from this because it has to hurt,” Butler said shortly after the 127-102 defeat Thursday. “They tried to embarrass us. They did embarrass us. I think we have to realize that — use it as fuel, whatever you want to say — but realize that the game can get out of hand when you’re playing a really good team like them that can score the ball and get stops.”
Butler and the top-seeded Heat will have just a day to process what happened at FTX Arena Thursday, when the Celtics viciously outworked and outplayed Miami from nearly start to finish. The best-of-seven series heads to Boston tied, 1-1.
Despite Miami suffering its worst loss of the postseason, Butler expressed confidence in his team’s ability to bounce back.
“If they did it, we can do it as well,” Butler said.
Only the first 4½ minutes of Game 2 went well for the Heat. P.J. Tucker, Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent each made a 3-pointer, Butler seemed to pick up right where he left off after his 41-point performance in Game 1, and Miami jumped out to an 18-8 lead. But that 10-point advantage was as good as it got.
The Celtics proceeded to go on a 27-6 run to close the first quarter with a 35-24 lead.
Things only got worse for Miami in the second, when Boston’s lead ballooned to 25 by halftime. The Celtics tallied 70 points, the most they’ve scored in a first half of a postseason game since 1990. The Heat aren’t slouches on defense — Miami has the top-ranked defense of the remaining playoff teams — making the 70 points that much more impressive.
When the second half began, some fans at FTX Arena never returned to their seats, opting instead for the exits. They didn’t miss much. The Heat made a small push in the third quarter, but their 12-2 run was just a drop in the bucket. Not even some surprise Duncan Robinson minutes could save Miami’s offensive woes.
The Celtics entered the fourth quarter with a 25-point lead, none of the Heat starters checked in for the final 12 minutes of action, and Boston cruised to victory.
So, what exactly went wrong in Miami’s first home loss of the playoffs?
“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” said center Bam Adebayo. “We didn’t know how to respond.”
One major difference-maker was the return of Celtics guard Marcus Smart (foot sprain) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols), who missed Game 1. With those starters back in the lineup, the Celtics defense was able to rely on a successful switch-heavy scheme, disrupting the Heat’s offense and preventing them from establishing any rhythm.
“I think we changed the way we played,” said Vincent, who made 5 of 10 shots for 14 points. “Obviously, they’re a very effective defensive team. They flattened us out. The ball got stagnant. We didn’t move it as much. We saw the result of that.”
Butler acknowledged he also became “a bit selfish” with the ball, and he stressed the importance of getting his teammates involved. Staying aggressive while also helping others get open is a challenging balancing act, Butler said, but he assumed full responsibility, especially with starting point guard Kyle Lowry sidelined with a hamstring injury.
While Butler still posted an efficient stat line, scoring 29 points on 61.1 percent shooting, he knows his teammates are essential pieces.
“Whenever they’re scoring, whenever they’re aggressive, we’re a much better team,” Butler said.
But Butler took perhaps an even bigger issue with Miami’s defense, or lack thereof. The Celtics racked up 127 points, the highest total against the Heat this postseason.
After Game 1, coach Erik Spoelstra said his team prides themselves on getting multiple stops in a row. That didn’t happen much Thursday. The Celtics shot 51.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.
Although Boston’s shot-making was impressive, the Heat didn’t do much to make things difficult. Butler also pointed out the correlation between good defense and good offense.
“We damn sure didn’t guard anybody,” he said. “When we don’t do that — that’s a trend all year long — when we’re not making shots, we’re not guarding anybody. We need to fix that once again. When we worry about defense first, the offense will come.”
To make matters worse, Tucker exited the court in the third quarter with a left knee contusion and did not return. Tucker, who has started every playoff game this year, would be a big loss, given his defensive doggedness, veteran experience, and ability to knock down a three. Spoelstra did not have an update after the game.
“If you ask him, he says he’s good to go,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll just have to see. I’ll talk to the trainers.”
The Heat clearly are aware there are things that need to change ahead of Game 3. But even after a loss as bad as Game 2, Spoelstra’s message to his team was simple: “This only counts as one.”