Midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics led the Miami Heat by six, 93-87. The Celtics, after falling short in Game 1, led by as much as 12 points just a few minutes prior and looked like they were headed towards a win at that junction to tie the series up at 1-1.
Jaylen Brown, upon recognizing that he was defended by Miami’s Duncan Robinson, attempted to extend Boston’s lead with a drive to the basket. However, Brown’s path was cut off by Gabe Vincent before Jimmy Butler joined in on the fray to swarm the Celtics’ two-time NBA All-Star.
Brown quickly passed out of the Heat’s triple team and found reserve forward Grant Williams for an open three-pointer that extended their lead to nine points, 96-87. Williams, who has been buried on Boston’s bench by head coach Joe Mazulla for most of this postseason, celebrated by barking at Butler on his way back down the court in what is likely to become one of the, if not the most, iconic moments of this series.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Miami responded with an overwhelming 16-4 run over the next four minutes to take a 103-100 lead with 2:19 remaining on the game clock. Butler was instrumental in the Heat’s run, scoring nine of their 16 points for his latest clutch performance of this postseason.
Miami went on to take a 111-105 win that put Boston in quite a difficult situation. The Celtics are now down 2-0 in this best-of-seven series with the next two games set to be played at the Heat’s home floor at the Kaseya Center.
Much of the blame for Boston’s loss has been placed upon Williams for irking Butler and fueling his fourth quarter run, but if there’s one thing that this postseason has taught the rest of the NBA, it’s that these types of performances from Miami’s superstar are rather inevitable. With or without Williams’ taunts, Butler was bound to will the Heat back into the game.
It can be argued that the bigger culprit for the Celtics’ loss was their rookie head coach Mazulla’s inexperience. Mazulla, who at 34 years old is younger than Miami’s 37-year-old back-up point guard Kyle Lowry, has become notorious in this postseason for his hesitation to call time-outs to stymie an opponent’s runs.
In Game 2, he decided to let the slow-footed Williams cover Butler one-on-one in the fourth quarter even if he had last year’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and Brown on the floor too. Furthermore, Williams was left on an island versus Butler as it was clear that there were no instructions for Boston’s other players to provide him with help defense.
Meanwhile, opposing head coach Erik Spoelstra had the Heat trap the Celtics’ leading scorer Jayson Tatum throughout the night and it led him to commit five turnovers which was the only stain on his statline (34 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists) for the evening. Mazulla had no counter to this and Tatum has instead been rendered useless in the fourth quarter so far in these Eastern Conference Finals.
All is not lost for Boston, though they have made their path to a second consecutive NBA Finals considerably more difficult. The Celtics have actually performed better on the road in this postseason, winning four of their six games versus their paltry 4-5 home record. They have banked on their talented roster to make it this far, yet they will need Mazulla to step up and mature on the fly if they are to keep their season alive.
There’s a popular saying around sports that goes, “Players win games and coaches lose them” and this adage perfectly encapsulates Boston’s experience in these playoffs so far.