The Celtics guard didn’t talk to the media after his reported locker room meltdown. But if you have watched his team play, it’s pretty easy to understand why he was so angry.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – While Marcus Smart was screaming at his Boston Celtics teammates, and items in the locker room were apparently being thrown or slammed, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was around the corner, saying “We are not going to sit up here and try to educate everybody on what winning basketball is.”
They had just given the Celtics a lesson. Spoelstra’s Miami Heat came back again to beat the Celtics again, this time in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami is two wins from the NBA Finals, and the more you watch this team, the less surprising it is. Smart didn’t talk to the media after his meltdown. But if you have watched his team play, it is pretty easy to understand why he was so angry. It’s not that the Celtics lost. It’s that too often, they lose their way.
Smart’s outburst will get the attention. But the real story of this series so far is not the outburst; it’s why he had the outburst. The Celtics can play such beautiful basketball – they had a stretch in the first half when they completely outclassed the Heat; as Spoelstra said afterward, ““It felt like we were down 30.” But the Celtics led by 14 early in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and lost, and they led by 15 early in the third quarter of Game 2 and lost, and it wasn’t just the Heat.
As Jaylen Brown said, “Both games, we had moments where we had lapses. That team over there is together for 48 minutes.”
It is easy to say Miami is the tougher team. It is also true. But toughness comes in many forms, and as Spoelstra said, “Yes, the guys have grit. But you also have to do things well.”
The Celtics actually outrebounded the Heat in this game. But the Heat only committed nine turnovers. The Celtics had 20, and too many were sloppy. That was a product of mental toughness, of valuing every possession, of communicating and listening and trusting. If the Celtics played tougher, they would have played smarter. If they played smarter, this series would be tied.
“Key turnovers, miscommunication,” star Jayson Tatum said afterward.
We should not assume the Celtics are splintering. But they get sloppy, and this is no time for sloppy. Smart understands that. Smart is not the Celtics’ best player, but he plays with the most urgency, and in Game 2, his team did not play with enough. Miami made one winning play after another. The most memorable: Miami star Jimmy Butler stealing the ball, chasing it down, and somehow throwing it to an open Duncan Robinson, one of the best shooters in the world … and then Robinson passing up a three-pointer to pass it back to Butler for a dunk.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens tried to make adjustments, big and small, to help his team. He gave Enes Kanter significant minutes in the first half after keeping him on the bench in Game 1, and the Celtics’ offense flowed extremely well. He waited a bit longer to insert Kemba Walker in the fourth quarter, with the hope that fresh legs would help him hit shots. But adjustments only go so far for either team.
“I know everybody wants to talk about a scheme,” Spoelstra said, “but for us, it’s disposition, effort, making multiple plays and multiple efforts, regardless of the scheme, and we were more committed there in the second half.”
Brown said, twice, “the series is not over.” He is right, but also: The Heat are 10-1 in the playoffs. The Celtics have lost five of seven, though one of those was a Game 7 win over the Raptors. The Celtics have to play better than they have played for most of the last two weeks.
Say what you want about what Smart did. There are teams that could have used that kind of passion before they exited the bubble. If it was going to come from anybody on the Celtics, Smart was probably the best messenger. Walker is a respected veteran, but he has not played well enough to be frustrated with others, and he seems to know it. Tatum is a star, but he is 22. He does not yet command a room like Smart.
Tatum said “What happens in the locker room has gotta stay in the locker room,” which sounds good but is not how the bubble works. The media can hear a lot more than usual in these small arenas. Anyway, there is no need to keep this under their hats. Marcus Smart is pissed. Would you expect him to be happy?
“I think (there’s) a beauty to it,” Brown said. “That’s why we love Marcus. He’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most.”