BOSTON (AP) — Grant Williams poked Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum went cold again in the fourth quarter and the Boston Celtics are staring at a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals.
Throughout the season, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla has trumpeted his team’s ability to respond with angry resilience following poor outings. They showed examples of it each of the previous two playoff rounds, usually buoyed big performances by their two All-Stars in Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Boston couldn’t do it in Friday’s 111-105 Game 2 loss to the Heat that saw Miami confound Tatum with its zone down the stretch. He finished with 34 points and 13 rebounds, but went 0 for 3 in the fourth quarter with two turnovers. He scored his only points in the final 12 minutes on five late free throws. It came after he failed to take a shot in the fourth quarter of Boston’s Game 1 loss.
Brown wasn’t much better, making only 1 of his 5 attempts in from the field in fourth with a turnover. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-23 shooting from the field.
“I think they outplayed us,” Brown said. “They out-toughed us tonight and they found a way to make plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
While Mazzulla has taken criticism in this series for some of his adjustments and decision-making, Tatum said the lack of production is on the players.
“We got his back, he got ours,” Tatum said. “Joe ain’t missed no shots tonight. He ain’t had no turnovers. I missed shots, I had turnovers. So, any time we lose I’m going to look at what I could have done better in order for us to change the outcome.”
As bad a night as Boston’s biggest stars had, the game changed after an exchange Williams had in the final quarter with Butler.
After hitting a 3-pointer to give his team a 96-87 lead, Williams shouted in the direction of Butler. He was then whistled for a foul on Miami’s next trip down the floor after committing a foul as Butler dropped in a short jumper with 6:22 to play in the game.
Words were exchanged and the pair went forehead to forward, spraying words back and forth before quickly being separated by their teammates and receiving double-technical fouls.
Butler casually swished his ensuring free throw to complete the three-point play and trotted back down the court.
Following a miss by Tatum and rebound by the Heat, the ball found its way back to Butler, who was good on a running floater. It was part of a 15-4 run that included nine points by Butler to give the Heat a 102-100 lead they never relinquished.
“I’m a competitor and I’m gonna battle,” Williams told reporters. “He got the best of me tonight and at the end of the day, it’s out of respect, because I’m not gonna run away from it. My mom always taught me, and my dad as well, you get your (butt) kicked and you don’t come back home until you come battle again.”
Butler said afterward that the play got him going.
“I like 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,” Butler said. “I just don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to.”
The Celtics found that out the hard way.
It ruined what had been a solid night for Williams, who was inserted back into the rotation after sitting out the series opener. He played 25 minutes and had nine points, two rebounds and two assists off the bench.
But Williams said he isn’t going to dwell on how the game ended. He said his focus, and that of the team, is to head to Miami with an eye on getting back in the series.
“I battled and I’m going to keep battling,” Williams said. “He’s going to have to make every single tough shot the rest of the series, and I’m not going to turn and look otherwise because I respect him.”