LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Getting angry worked wonders for the Boston Celtics.
Their first win in these Eastern Conference finals just happened to come two nights after Marcus Smart sparked a loud and emotional series of shouting matches inside the Celtics’ locker room, all of that starting only a few seconds after the Miami Heat won to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
That lead is down to 2-1 now, the Celtics playing brilliantly in Game 3 and leading wire-to-wire to take a bunch of newfound momentum into Game 4 of the series on Wednesday night.
“I’ve always been saying that before you see the rainbow, it has to storm,” Smart said Monday, speaking about the post-Game 2 dustup for the first time publicly. “For us, that was a storm that we had to go through. We found our happy place.”
It’s now Miami’s turn to find a happy place — though an unhappy place would seem more appropriate. The Heat never led in Game 3, got themselves into a double-digit hole for the third consecutive game in this series and fourth straight overall, and because of a scheduling quirk now get to sit around and stew for three full off days before getting a chance to atone for what went wrong Saturday.
“Look, there’s two teams competing against each other,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So as much as you want to say, ‘Hey, it’s just about us and we just have to do X, Y and Z,’ the Boston Celtics have something to say about that. Likewise, when they’re doing whatever they’re trying to do, we have something to say about that.”
The Celtics’ anger was no secret and was displayed at least somewhat publicly; reporters near their locker room heard the commotion after Game 2, with Smart being the one who lit the fuse.
“He’s the guy that keeps us going and keeps us inspired, keeps us being competitive,” Boston’s Grant Williams said. “... You just have to follow his lead and trust that we have a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of great things. He’s just going to compete his butt off and we follow that standard.”
The Heat didn’t have a visible — or audible — blowup after Game 3, took Sunday off to rest physically and mentally, then got back to work Monday with a film session, on-court work and then more meetings set for the evening.
“Our spirit is right, our head is right, our energy is there, so I think we’re responding the right way,” Miami wing Jae Crowder said. “We’re just trying to get better and trying to see how we can play a complete game, play a complete 48-minute game and be as sharp as we can be on both ends of the court. With that being said, I think we took the loss, we took the adversity in a good way. And we’re still taking it in.”
Some of the numbers posted so far in the East finals are more than a little overwhelming.
They’re also simultaneously puzzling, at least from the Celtics’ perspective.
There have been 17 instances of someone scoring to give his team a double-digit lead at some point in the first three games of the series; all 17 of those have been done by the Celtics. The Celtics have yet to trail by more than eight, have led by as much as 20 and have been in front for 75% of the first 149 minutes played in this matchup.
But it’s Miami still leading the series, which is why the Celtics are seeking to show up for Game 4 with the same aggression that carried them in Game 3.
“I think each game is its own entity, so it is what it is. We’re all on the same schedule,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We know we’re going to have to play the best game that we’ve played in Game 4 of this series to have a chance to win. That’s just the way series work. That’s the way the playoffs work. You have to get better every game.”
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