BOSTON — Grant Williams was having himself a nice little Game 2 against the Miami Heat on Friday night. He was giving the Celtics some much-needed energy off the bench, playing solid defense, and knocking down threes.
He finished with nine points off 4-for-6 shooting over his 26 minutes, which isn’t bad for a guy who didn’t play at all in Game 1 and has been left on the bench for four other games this postseason. But as much as his energetic self had a positive impact for Boston on Friday, Williams’ fire ended up burning him and the Celtics in the end.
The Heat have an absolute bear of a player in Jimmy Butler, and Williams decided to poke that bear midway through the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Williams, poking a bear never really works out too well for the poker.
The Celtics were up by nine with 6:22 left when Butler hit a jumper over Williams and was fouled by the Boston forward. Williams had just hit a three on the other end, and was feeling pretty good about himself. So he started to talk some smack and bump heads with Butler. The two were assessed matching technical fouls.
The exchange fired up the TD Garden crowd, and it would have been nice if it had fired up the rest of Williams’ Celtics teammates.
Instead, it just fired up Butler.
Butler hit his free throw to cut Boston’s lead to 96-90. Then, after Jayson Tatum missed a three, Butler put in a floater to make it a four-point game. With the Heat trailing 100-98 with just under three minutes to play, Butler then hit a pullup to knot the game at 100-100. After the Heat came up with a steal off Marcus Smart, Butler canned another jumper to put the Heat on top with 2:33 to play.
That was it for Butler’s scoring, but he scorched the court the rest of the game by being Jimmy Butler and making life easier on his Heat teammates. Miami outscored the Celtics 26-9 after the Williams-Butler scuffle, and won the game 111-105 to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Butler didn’t have any issue with Williams’ smack talk, but admitted that it did wake him up.
“Yes it did, but that’s just competition at its finest,” Butler said after his 27-point evening. “He hit a big shot so he started talking to me. I like that. I’m all for that. It makes me key in and it pushes that will I have to win a lot more. It does.
“I do respect him,” Butler said of Williams. “He’s a big part of what they do; he switches and he can shoot the ball. I just don’t know if I was the best person to talk to.”
Williams, to his credit, isn’t going to let what happened in Game 2 keep him from being himself going forward.
“He said something and I responded. I’m a competitor and I battle,” he said after the loss. “He got the best of me tonight. At the end of the day it’s out of respect. I’m not going to run away from it. My mom and dad taught me that if you get your ass kicked, you don’t come back home until you battle again. You either come back before you die or you come back when you win. I’m not willing to die, so looking to come back with a win.
“He made some tough shots,” Williams said of Butler’s end-of-game heroics. “It’s a battle. I’m going to keep battling. He’s gonna have to make every single tough shot the rest of the series because I’m not gonna turn and look otherwise.”
Williams’ teammates didn’t want to discuss the exchange after the loss, but Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra summed it up well.
“Look, I love that gnarly version of Jimmy, but you get that regardless,” he said, dismissing the “poke the bear” notion. “I just think people now are paying a lot more attention to him now that we’ve won some games in the postseason the last few years.”
Jimmy Butler is very much awake in this series, averaging 31 points over the first two games. With a 2-0 lead and the next two games in Miami, Butler and the Heat will look to send the Celtics into a summer hibernation.