After losing Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Finals series by 11 points to the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics bounced back in a massive way in Game 2 on Thursday.
The Celtics took Game 2 of this series 127-102, beating the Heat by 25 points and really controlling this game from the start.
Miami did start off the game hot, taking an early 18-10 lead through the first five to six minutes of the game, but then Boston really settled into a groove, especially from three-point range.
For the game, the Celtics shot 20-40 (50%) from three-point range, making nine more three-pointers than they did a game ago and outscoring the Heat from deep in this one by 30 points.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined to go 8-13 (61.5%) from three-point range in Game 2, but it was the play of Marcus Smart that really elevated the Celtics on both ends of the court.
After missing Game 1 due to a foot sprain, Smart geared up for Game 2 on Thursday and he delivered for Boston, going 5-12 from three-point range and scoring 24 points.
From offense to defense and defense to offense, the Celtics controlled the pace of this game all night long and nobody on the Heat’s roster other than Jimmy Butler were able to settle down and get anything going.
Now with this series tied up at 1-1 heading to Boston for the next two games, there is really no telling as to who has the upper hand in a series that could very well go the distance.
Here is what we learned from the Celtics’ Game 2 victory over the Heat on Thursday.
Marcus Smart was the recipient of this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and rightfully so given that he was one of the best all-around defenders during the regular season.
His presence for the Celtics on the defensive-end of the floor is unmatched, but that is not only where he makes an impact. In Game 2, Smart was the most active player on the floor for Boston and did a little bit of everything to help his team win.
Smart finished the game with 24 points on 5-12 shooting from deep, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals and a block. From offense to defense, Marcus Smart gave the Celtics 40 huge minutes and turned out to be their best player on the floor in his team’s victory.
All year long, Smart has stepped up to be the Celtics’ main facilitator and point guard, taking a ton of pressure off of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to have to do everything for this team.
With him out of the rotation in Game 1, Tatum and Brown were really the only playmakers the Celtics had, allowing the Heat to constantly attack them and force some unnecessary turnovers.
Now, with Marcus Smart back out on the floor, Boston’s offense is a lot more consistent and most importantly, they are able to spread the floor and move the ball around much better. Smart’s value to this team goes well beyond his contributions on defense and if he can continue to be a factor shooting from the perimeter, then the Celtics will have the upper hand in this series.
Remember how we talked about that small guard from the end of the Celtics’ bench after Game 1 of this series? Yep, we are talking about Payton Pritchard again because he has quickly become a vital part of Boston’s rotations.
He may not have played much during the regular season or much during his rookie season last year, but here-and-there, we have seen flashes of Pritchard’s three-point shooting dominance. If you look back to his tape from when he was at Oregon, it is very clear to see that the young guard is more than capable of being a key three-point scorer off-the-bench in this league.
So far in the postseason, Pritchard has scored in double figures off-the-bench in five total games, including scoring 10 points on 2-6 from deep against the Heat on Thursday. During the regular season, Payton Pritchard scored at least 10 points only 19 times!
Over the Celtics’ last three games, Pritchard is now averaging 14.0 points per game on 10-23 (43.5%) shooting from three-point range. A real shooting threat off-the-bench, the Celtics have put a lot of faith in the young guard and he has delivered for them so far.
Marcus Smart missed Game 1 with a foot injury and Pritchard stepped up with 18 points. Derrick White missed Game 2 due to the birth of his first child, big congratulations to Derrick and his wife by the way, and Pritchard stepped up with 10 points off-the-bench.
The Celtics have really found something with their 6’1” guard near the end of their bench and all of a sudden, he has gone from an unknown to someone that must be heavily guarded when on the floor.
I said it after Game 1 and I will say it again after Game 2:
Payton Pritchard is the key to the Celtics not only winning this series against the Heat, but winning the NBA Finals.
His contributions on offense take a ton of pressure off of Boston’s stars and given that they are one of the worst bench scoring teams in the league, any bit of production Pritchard gives the Celtics gives them a massive advantage offensively.
Look, Jimmy Butler can go out there and put on a show for the Miami Heat, like he has been doing all offseason long, but what this series comes down to between the Heat and Celtics is that third key star.
Butler is going to get his baskets for Miami and Tatum is going to get his baskets for Boston, but who will emerge as that third guy in this series?
Maybe it will be Jaylen Brown for the Celtics, but it must be Bam Adebayo for the Heat if they are to get back to the NBA Finals and have a chance to win a title.
Credit the Celtics’ defense for his struggles early on in this series, but Bam Adebayo must take the initiative to be aggressive and score on the offensive-end of the floor in Games 3 and 4 of this series in Boston, especially since the Celtics now own a little momentum after handing the Heat their first home loss in these playoffs.
So far through Games 1 and 2, Adebayo has scored a combined 16 points on 6-10 shooting and he has only brought in 13 total rebounds. These numbers are not bad for a role player, but Bam Adebayo is a former All-Star and the second-best player on the Heat’s roster.
Again, Robert Williams III and Al Horford in Game 2 really did a good job of limiting Adebayo’s opportunities on the interior, but at some point, stars in this league just take over, regardless of what the other team is throwing at them.
This needs to be the mentality for Adebayo moving forward, otherwise, the Celtics will likely run away with this series. Tyler Herro, Max Strus and other secondary scorers can only do so much for Miami and with Jimmy Butler likely not going for 40 points every night and picking up the slack for Bam Adebayo, this team needs their second All-Star to really step up.
Brett Siegel joined FastBreak on Fan Nation in April 2022 after previously covering the NBA for NBA Analysis Network and working with Louisville Basketball, aiding in daily operations, scouting and recruiting. From playing to coaching to covering the game as a credentialed NBA media member, Brett has been involved with the game of basketball from many different perspectives. Breaking the news of Andre Drummond signing with the Lakers in 2021, as well as other key stories around the league, Brett is always on the phone, getting the latest news and rumors around the NBA. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @BrettSiegelNBA.