There’s a strong argument to be made that Jimmy Butler was going to eat the Celtics alive down the stretch of Game 2 no matter what. The man is borderline possessed right now.
Still, a couple of things didn’t help Boston’s cause in a 111-105 loss that puts them in an 0-2 deficit with the series headed to Miami on Sunday. First, Joe Mazzulla decided to single cover Butler. Even with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t necessarily disagree with the strategy.
I watch defenses cut their own throat night after night by over-helping off shooters. Taking the reactionary guesswork out of that equation and just keeping everyone attached to their assignment, forcing Butler to make contested shots time and again, is at least a defensible plan.
But talking trash to Butler as he’s doing it? That is just, shall we say, unwise. We all get that these guys are competitors and this is the heat of a massive moment. But Butler is on fire right now. Throwing gas on him, as Grant Williams did with 6:25 to play in the fourth quarter, isn’t just asking for trouble. It’s begging for it.
As it happened, Williams, who has been out of Boston’s rotation (he didn’t play one minute in Game 1), has just hit a 3-pointer. On his way back down the court, he started yapping in Butler’s ear. Check out the look on Butler’s face.
“He hit a big shot. Started talking to me. I like that. I’m all for that. It makes me key in a lot more. It pushes that will to win that I have a lot more. And it makes me smile. It does,” Butler said. “When people talk to me, I’m like, ‘OK, I know I’m a decent player, if you want to talk to me out of everyone that you can talk to?’ But it’s just competition. I do respect [Williams] though. He’s a big part of what they try to do. He switches. He can shoot the ball. I just don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to.”
The man ain’t lying. After Williams poked the bear, Butler bulldozed him for an old-fashioned 3-point play on the ensuing possession and the two wound up forehead to forehead.
Including that Butler bucket, the Heat outscored Boston 24-9 over the remainder of the game. Butler had nine of those fourth-quarter points, including this “too small” hit job.
Asked after the game if Williams made a mistake by potentially igniting Butler with some ill-timed trash talk, Jaylen Brown simply said, “Next question.”
Was Brown not interested in acknowledging the Williams incident because he believed Williams made a mistake but didn’t want to throw his teammate under the bus, or because he thinks this is an irrelevant storyline? I could be either. I would lean toward the former. It seems like it would be easy enough to say, “Hey, that didn’t have anything to do with why we lost this game.”
I’m in the middle here. I think Butler has become inevitable in these playoffs, and he was more than likely going to do his thing down the stretch of this game, particularly against single coverage, even if the entire Celtics organization had taped their mouths shut.
I also agree with Butler. He’s not the best guy to be talking to. In the end, whether Williams hurt Boston’s chances of winning this game are up for debate. But he certainly didn’t help them.