Three observations from Celtics’ Game 2 loss to Miami Heat

The Boston Celtics (0-1) hosted the Miami Heat (1-0) in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday. Boston needed to tie the series at one game apiece before heading on the road. Miami wanted to take a commanding 2-0 series lead heading home. Poor execution down the stretch doomed the Celtics as the Heat stunned TD Garden in Game 2, 111-105.

Jimmy Butler scored 27 points with eight rebounds and six assists. Bam Adebayo put up 22 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists.

Jayson Tatum scored 34 points, reeled in 13 rebounds, and dished eight assists. But, he committed five turnovers. Jaylen Brown scored 16 points, but shot 7-for-23 from the field.

Here are three observations from the Celtics’ Game 2 loss.

The first counter-punch was the first 3 possessions of the 2nd quarter

It made little sense to this writer that Joe Mazzulla substituted Robert Williams III out after Miami opened up a small lead in the early moments of the game. Sure, you’re not going to decide a 48-minute game in the first five minutes of the first quarter. But, you can get a general feel for how desperate the home team down 1-0 is in the first few minutes of the game.

Miami scored a bit too easily coming out of the gate. Boston struggled to find a rhythm in the first few minutes.

That, by itself, is not a concern.

But, Williams III was the only Celtic making plays on defense. He blew up a lob in the paint, he blocked a Butler side-step three, and then forced a rim-out on a Butler midrange jumper. He was the only keeping the Celtics from being in a double-digit hole before they could blink.

Taking Williams III out is fine if that adjustment makes your offense flow easier. There needs to be a pretty immediate response for that to be a worthwhile move. Not just neutralizing the threat, but taking over and zapping the road team’s momentum right where it sits. And it just didn’t pay off in the first quarter. The Celtics only led by one point heading into the second quarter, giving the Heat confidence that they had withstood a first chess move by the home team.

Still, Boston punched back in the early stages of the second quarter. The key for the Celtics to get going typically involves pace in transition, and that was how they went about jumping ahead in the opening two minutes of the second quarter.

First, Grant Williams blocked Adebayo, resulting in a kicked ball turnover. Not a transition opportunity, but Boston had the right pace on what came next. Kyle Lowry blew a pick-and-roll coverage, leaving Williams to make himself available to Tatum out of the short roll. A quick bounce pass from Tatum, a quick pivot and rocket to Derrick White in the corner, easy money on a corner three.

Second, Lowry made a bad pass for a live-ball turnover. Malcolm Brogdon cashed in on a pull-up three in transition.

Third, Gabe Vincent was well off the mark on an early-clock three in Miami’s halfcourt offense. Tatum found the mismatch in transition, scoring a layup after backing his way down to the paint on an isolation.

Turning defense into quick offense is the best way for this Celtics team to score. As Marcus Smart said not so long ago, the Celtics’ offense is random. That means there’s not a lot of structure when the game slows down. Brogdon might be the only real point guard on the team, but Mazzulla only went to him for 26 minutes in this game.

If Boston isn’t going to feature a real point guard to organize that end of the floor, they have to play quickly. Doing so gave them a nine-point lead early in the second frame, forcing Miami into a timeout.

Nice haymaker.

The Celtics look lost against zone

One of the best ways to tell whether a team is coached well is to monitor how quickly they adapt to a zone defense. And, it just so happens that the Heat love to go zone.

That was a large part of how Miami ate away at Boston’s 12-point lead as the second quarter went on. You could see the Celtics were uncomfortable, unsure of what to do. They settled for a number of awkward jumpers, otherwise forcing off-balance and well-defended shots around the rim. When they didn’t do that, the Celtics telegraphed passes across the court, throwing pick-sixes into the arms of nearby Heat players.

You give a trained team like the Miami Heat a floor to run as you backpedal to defend in transition, you will have regrets.

The Celtics’ failures in execution let the Heat make it a game heading into halftime.

Don't. Talk. To. Jimmy. Butler.

Oh, Grant Williams. Grant Williams, Grant Williams.

Rule number one: don’t talk to Butler in the fourth quarter.

He is not the one to challenge. That dude is a basketball assassin.

This all started when Williams had some choice words for Butler after knocking down a three to give the Celtics a nine-point lead with six-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter.

He poked Butler, they had a back-and-forth, Butler got that look in his eyes, and it was over. We’ve seen that movie before. If you light Butler’s fuse, there’s no putting it out. You can only hope that there isn’t enough time in the game for Butler to completely sink your team.

But, no dice in Game 2. The Heat outscored the Celtics by 15 points the rest of the way. It wasn’t a total takeover from Butler, but it was obvious that the Celtics knew what movie they were watching.

They shrunk, totally rattled by Miami’s run. Butler didn’t need to do anything abnormally special to close the game out. He just needed to smile. It’s disarming, but you know what’s to follow.

The Celtics beat themselves down the stretch, too rattled by the fire that had rapidly developed to execute and save the night.

The Celtics (0-2) will visit the Miami Heat (2-0) for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on TNT.

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Story originally appeared on Celtics Wire