Heat bring 2-0 lead over Celtics home to Miami as East finals resume
Jimmy Butler is Miami’s leader this postseason in points, minutes, assists and steals per game. He’s the sommelier at team dinners. He’s the barista when it’s time for coffee.
If all that wasn't enough, he's also the DJ.
When music blares in the Heat locker room, Butler is almost always in charge. Could be gospel, could be Whitney Houston, could be Nickelback and — as it was after Miami's 111-105 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals — it could be Morgan Wallen, whose song "Somebody's Problem" has become a Heat anthem.
Wallen's song is not about basketball, though that's completely irrelevant to the Heat. These days, Butler is somebody's problem. In fact, he's everybody's problem. And the Boston Celtics are running out of time to find a solution.
Game 3 of the East finals is Sunday night, with the eighth-seeded Heat leading 2-0 after stunning almost everyone but themselves by going into Boston and winning the first two games of the series — putting themselves in position to reclaim a conference title that the Celtics defeated them for last season.
"I've said it all year long," said Butler, who is averaging 31.1 points in the postseason. "We are going to ride with one another until the wheels fall off."
The wheels are fine right now. The Heat have won 10 out of 13 games to open the playoffs, after never winning 10 out of 13 during any stretch of the regular season. They toppled top-seeded Milwaukee in Round 1, ousted fifth-seeded New York in Round 2 and now have second-seeded Boston in serious trouble. And they've successfully rallied from more 12-point-or-more deficits in these playoffs — six, after doing it again on Friday night — than the rest of the NBA has combined (five) entering Saturday.
"Feels like this has just been our existence all year long. I guess nobody is really paying attention," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Every single game, it felt like for weeks on end, every game was ending on a last-second shot, whether we're shooting it or the other team is shooting it. So, you develop some grit from that."
They also developed something — maybe some of the grit Spoelstra speaks of — from going through last year's East finals, when Boston won three times on Miami's home floor, including a Game 7 triumph that sent the Celtics to the NBA Finals against Golden State.
The Heat know this series isn't over. They remember what Boston is capable of in Miami, and they know it'll be a rallying cry for the Celtics as well.
"This team, we have a real, real decision to make," said Boston's Grant Williams, the talk of Game 2 after he went forehead-to-forehead with Butler in the fourth quarter as Miami — perhaps not coincidentally — started a 24-9 run to end the game.
"That decision's going to be, 'Are we going to come back and really set the tone for the rest of this year and make a statement?' or 'Are we going to come out and lay down?'" Williams said. "And I don't think this team is built for laying down."
This is the 18th time that Miami has taken a 2-0 series lead in Udonis Haslem's 20 seasons with the team. The Heat have won all 17 of the previous series, 13 of them under Spoelstra.
Boston has lost 15 of its last 16 series after falling behind 2-0. The exception came in the first round against Chicago in 2017, another matchup where the Celtics dropped Games 1 and 2 at home.
Celtics starters Jaylen Brown (17 for 44, .386) and Al Horford (4 for 13, .308) are off to dismal shooting starts in this series. Brown is 2 for 13 on 3-pointers, and Horford is 1 for 8.
Meanwhile, Celtics center Robert Williams is 11 for 11 through two games. It's his second streak of 11 consecutive made field goals in these playoffs, and he's shooting an absurd 49-for-59 in the postseason (.831).
No player had more rebounds or assists in the first two games of the series than Miami's Bam Adebayo.
He had 25 rebounds (Tatum had the second-most with 20) and 14 assists (tying Boston's Marcus Smart for the most).
But the real gem on the stat sheet from the first two games might be this: Butler has more steals (nine) than the Celtics combined (eight).
While Miami is now a slight favorite to win the series, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Celtics are 3.5-point favorites in Game 3.
And the Celtics (+290) still have significantly better odds to win the NBA title, according to FanDuel, than Miami does (+440).
Associated Press 2023