Heading into game two of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics will have one thing on their minds – how to stop Jimmy Butler.
The Miami Heat star turned in a Super Saiyan level performance against the Celtics on May 17, dropping 41 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three blocks on 63.2% shooting from the field as he led his team to victory over an injured Boston team.
However, with Marcus Smart likely to return to the rotation for game two, Butler will face a new challenge in the form of the Defensive Player of the Year, and all eyes will be on that matchup as Boston looks to even the series. Yet, according to Shaquille O’Neal, Butler won’t be phased by Smart’s presence on the court, as he cannot contain the Heat’s star wing in his current form.
“First of all, Jimmy can get 40 if he puts his mind to it. With or without Marcus Smart, Jimmy Butler can get 40. He’s at that level now where nobody is stopping him…Marcus Smart ain’t shutting Jimmy Butler down; if he wants to get 40 he can get 40…I don’t want to hear that Defensive Player of the Year c***,” O’Neal said during a heated exchange with Charles Barkley.
Smart Expected to Return From Injury
In game seven against the Milwaukee Bucks, Marcus Smart suffered a foot injury that kept him out of Boston’s first game against the heat, but according to reports, the Celtics starting guard is aiming for a return when the two teams face off on May 19.
Before being ruled out of game one, the Celtics were hopeful Smart could overcome his minor injury and take to the court, holding off on deciding on his participation until the last minute. Unfortunately, the Celtics’ defensive lynchpin was deemed to need additional time to heal, forcing him to watch from the sidelines.
“He tested out a little bit here, and we’re hoping he’s feeling better. But some soreness there, some swelling, and we’ll monitor him throughout the day. Get some treatment and still be listed as questionable. The swelling is there, and the soreness is there, but we hope he has good treatment, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s still sore. But he has a long day, an extra hour or two, and we’ll see how he feels. Legitimately questionable,” Udoka told Masslive’s, Souichi Terada.
Still, should Smart return for game two, he would boost his team, especially considering they are likely to be without veteran center Al Horford for the game and will need all the defensive help they can get to slow Butler down.
Celtics Won Three Quarters of Game One
Despite losing their opening game against the Heat, the Celtics won three-quarters of basketball. However, it was in the third quarter that they lost the contest. After Jayson Tatum had helped Boston build a lead heading into halftime, the Celtics came out for the third quarter with no energy and gave up multiple easy buckets off turnovers and run-outs.
Tatum, who was tasked with initiating most of the offense in Smart’s absence, had seven turnovers in that quarter, with the Celtics managing to score just 14 points in 12 minutes of play, with 10 of those points coming from the free-throw line.
Boston will need to up their intensity level now that they’re chasing the series and can’t afford to have another disastrous 12-minute slip in their next game – if they can do that, then Boston has a fantastic opportunity to even up the series before heading to the TD Garden for games three and four. Hopefully, Smart gets the all-clear to participate in the May 19 contest, and the Celtics can reclaim control of their conference finals series.