Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) fights for a loose ball with Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) and center Bam Adebayo (13) during the first half of game two of the Eastern Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The eighth-seeded Miami Heat won both games in Boston to take a 2-0 series lead over the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals
How rare is that accomplishment? It’s actually unprecedented, as the Heat became the lowest seed ever to take a 2-0 series lead in the conference finals or later, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
The Heat has obviously done a lot well to put itself in this position and the Celtics have a lot they need to do better to extend the series. But the bottom line is Miami’s leading duo of Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler has dominated the series so far.
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In the 63 minutes that Adebayo and Butler have played together through the first two games of the East finals, the Heat has outscored the Celtics by 28.6 points per 100 possessions. The raw plus/minus number is a plus-37.
“Their competitive spirit. Their competitive will,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about Adebayo and Butler following Friday’s 111-105 win at TD Garden. “They compete to win, and they understand that you have to do it on both ends of the court. Both of them at some point basically guarded everybody on the floor, basically at some point with the switches. They are going to burn a lot of calories on that end, but they have to shoulder massive responsibilities for us on the other end.
“So we follow them. We follow them with their spirit, their competitive will, night in, night out.”
In the first two games of the East finals, Butler has averaged 31 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 4.5 steals per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.
Adebayo has averaged 21 points, 12.5 rebounds and seven assists per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the first two games of the series.
Game 3 is Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Kaseya Center (TNT).
SHOW SOME RESPECT
The Celtics continue to dare Heat forward Caleb Martin to play as a scorer and Martin continues to make the Celtics pay.
With Boston using big man Robert Williams on Martin at times and consistently helping off of him to send an extra defender into the paint, Martin has taken advantage to total 40 points on 17-of-27 (63 percent) shooting from the field and 6-of-14 (42.9 percent) shooting from three-point range off the bench through the first two games of the series.
“Everybody has a game plan or a scheme to follow. I get it,” said Martin, who set a new playoff career-high with 25 points in Friday’s Game 2 win.. “When you’re dealing with guys as good as Jimmy, Bam, guys that draw so much attention, you kind of have to pick your poison. I’m on the short end of the stick when it comes to that.”
Each of Martin’s 14 three-point attempts through the first two games of the series have been labeled as either open (closest defender four to six feet away) or wide open (closest defender more than six feet away), according to NBA tracking data.
“One thing Caleb told me was, ‘This is not last year,’” Adebayo said. “That really resonated with me, because they did the same thing to him last year [in the East finals]. I feel like he felt like it was disrespectful.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The Heat took control of Game 1 by outscoring the Celtics 46-25 in the third quarter and then took control of Game 2 by winning the fourth quarter 36-22. What can the Celtics do better to respond to big runs by the Heat?
“Be mature, be poised in those moments,” Celtics All-Star forward Jaylen Brown said. “This is a veteran team. Like they are good at exposing your weaknesses, they’re good at feeding off of indecision. Continue to be aggressive and just continue to be yourself. It’s a challenge mentally, it’s a challenge physically, they’re disciplined.”
▪ The Celtics made a change to their starting lineup to open the second half of Game 2, playing Derrick White in place of Robert Williams for a smaller look.
Despite the loss, the five-man unit of Marcus Smart, White, Jayson Tatum, Brown and Al Horford was effective on Friday. This lineup outscored the Heat by seven points in 11 minutes together.
“I thought it gave us a different look,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of the lineup change in the middle of Game 2. “I thought we were able to change the matchups a little bit.”
With those positive results, the expectation is the Celtics will open Game 3 with this smaller lineup.
▪ Up 2-0, the Heat is in control of the best-of-7 East finals as the series shifts to Miami for Games 3 and 4. Entering this year’s playoffs, teams that won the first two games of a best-of-7 series went on to win the series 92.2 percent of the time (308-26).
“The job is not done,” Martin said. “Those are going to be two of the hardest games that we’ve played so far coming up next at home. We want to use the home court to our advantage. We just understand the games are going to continue to get tougher, and they are going to come out firing even more than they did the last two games. We’ve just got to compete as if we are not up two.”
This story was originally published May 20, 2023 3:53 PM.