BOSTON (AP) — Jimmy Butler went forehead-to-forehead with the Boston Celtics, and the Heat are heading back to Miami with an opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.
Butler scored 27 points, hitting back-to-back buckets to tie the game and give Miami the lead, and the eighth-seeded Heat left Boston with a 111-105 victory Friday night and a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Butler also provided eight rebounds, six assists and an emotional spark after Boston’s Grant Williams started jawing with him: Butler stared down Williams, with both players drawing technical fouls for the double head-butt.
Then “Jimmy Buckets” scored and scored some more — nine points in all during a 23-9 run that turned a nine-point deficit into a 105-100 lead.
“I knew that was going to be good for us,” said Caleb Martin, who came off the bench to score 25 points. “We’ll take mad Jimmy at any time. You could kind of see it in his eyes he was ready to go after that.”
Bam Adebayo had 22 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists for Miami, which returns home with a chance to sweep and become just the second No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals.
Game 3 is Sunday night.
“He’s going to have to make every single tough shot the rest of the series,” Williams said. “And I’m not going to turn and look otherwise because I respect him as an (expletive) player.”
Jayson Tatum had 34 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists for Boston. But the Celtics star went 0 for 3 with two turnovers in the fourth quarter, when Boston blew an 89-77 lead en route to a second home loss in three nights.
After finishing 13 games ahead of the Heat in the regular-season — and then watching top-seeded Milwaukee fall to Miami in the first round — the Celtics have stumbled on what appeared to be a clear path to their second straight NBA Finals.
“It’s tough. It’s a challenge. But there’s no point being up here sad and (stuff),” Tatum said. “They came in and won two games. They played well; you give them credit. But we’re not dead or anything. We’ve got a great opportunity. I still have the utmost confidence. Everybody has the utmost confidence. We’ve just got to get ready for Game 3.”
Jaylen Brown scored 16 points on 7-for-23 shooting; he went 1 for 5 with a turnover in the final quarter, when Miami outscored Boston 36-22.
“We’ve got some dogs, and I love it. I love every bit of it,” Butler said on the postgame TV broadcast. “Guys never quit. We never give up. We love playing with one another. We’ve got so much faith and trust in one another.”
The Celtics led by 11 in the third quarter and made it a dozen early in the fourth. Williams made a 3-pointer to make it 96-87 and was talking to Butler on the way back down the court. Butler scored at the other end and was fouled by Williams; the two players leaned into each other — drawing double technicals — before Butler hit the ensuing free throw.
“Some healthy competition. I ain’t going to lie to you. Healthy competition. And I love it. I’m always here to compete. I like to talk, at times,” Butler said. “As long as we get the win, I’m good with it.”
Asked if Boston “poked the bear” by getting Butler angry, Brown said, “Next question.” But Butler said there was no doubt that the attempt to get him off his game actually fired him up.
“Yes it did,” Butler said. “But that’s just competition at its finest. He hit a big shot and started talking to me. But I like that. It’s just competition. It pushes that will to win. It makes me smile. … I just don’t know if I was the best person to talk to.”
After Tatum missed from long distance — one of three missed 3s in the fourth quarter — Butler drove to the basket to make it a four-point Boston lead. Miami trailed 98-96 when Butler was called for an offensive foul, kicking Marcus Smart after landing on a missed 3-pointer.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra challenged, but lost.
He made a 17-footer to tie it 100-all, and then a short fadeaway to give Miami the lead. After Max Strus made one of two free throws, Adebayo scored on a putback dunk to make it 105-100 with less than a minute to play.
“I love that gnarly version of Jimmy,” Spoelstra said. “But you get that regardless. I think now people are just paying more attention. … Jimmy is just a real competitor.”
Boston used a 21-2 run to turn an eight-point, first-quarter deficit into an 11-point lead.
Brown was 1 for 7 in the first quarter, when Tatum scored 12. Derrick White, who made a single 3-pointer, was the only player other than Tatum who scored more than 2 points in the first. … Adebayo and Butler each grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter. … Lowry and Grant Williams did a little shoving after Williams fouled Adebayo with nine minutes left in the second quarter, with no repercussions.
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