Celtics draw even with Heat in Eastern Conference finals, but maintain control of series:

MIAMI – NBA playoff proclamations are tricky.

A series fluctuates, and there’s not always carryover from one game to the next. Each game is its own entity. Coaches and players break down video between games, make adjustments and results change.

No one said anything other than the Phoenix Suns would beat the Dallas Mavericks after taking a 2-0 series lead last round. Yet, the Mavs advanced. And a blowout loss isn’t a harbinger. The Golden State Warriors trailed by 55 and lost by 39 to the Memphis Grizzlies and won the series.

So bringing absolutes to a 1-1 series in the conference finals can backfire. It’s also easy to be a prisoner of the moment.

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With that said, the Boston Celtics look like the better team than the Miami Heat, and based on what has transpired in the first two games in Miami, the Celtics might just head back to Miami for Game 5 after Games 3 and 4 in Boston with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out the series.

The Celtics clobbered the Heat 127-102 in Game 2 on Friday, tying the series at 1-1.

Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart celebrate after a first-half bucket.

Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart celebrate after a first-half bucket.

Boston has proven it has plenty of offense against a quality Miami defense, and a top-notch defense against a Miami team that struggles to find a reliable second and third scorer to complement Jimmy Butler.

In seven of the eight quarters in this series, the Celtics have outscored the Heat 220-181. That one 39-14 third quarter the Heat won in Game 1 is the reason they took a 1-0 lead. Yes, the Heat made shots, but Boston imploded, too, and did not have Marcus Smart and Al Horford for that game.

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“I felt we did not play as poorly as last game showed,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We won three quarters and had a very bad third quarter that was hard to overcome, but we saw a lot of positives and areas we could attack.”

Everything works better when two of a few five starters are back on the court. From the series opener to the second game, the Celtics improved their spacing and ball movement and cut down on turnovers. Smart was a big reason for that. He made 5-of-12 3-pointers and delivered 12 assists.

“I leave it in his hands, and he usually makes the right decision, understands who to get going and who’s hot, who the hot guys are and he did a great job of that tonight,” Udoka said.

Smart scored 24 points – one of three Celtics to reach at least 20. Jayson Tatum had 27 and Jaylen Brown had 24. Grant Williams added 19 points and Payton Pritchard and Horford each had 10. When the Celtics went to a smaller lineup with Williams on the court and either Robert Williams or Horford on the bench, Miami struggled to defend.

More important to Udoka was the defensive toughness with which Boston played.

“We pride ourselves on being one of the tougher teams, so we knew if we matched that, we’d be in good shape,” Udoka said.

Butler did not have the comfortable offensive outing he had in Game 1, and the Celtics limited Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Max Strus.

Butler wasn’t ready to concede anything just yet – not surprising coming from one of the NBA’s fiercest competitors.

“If we do not want it to happen again, we have to fix it,” Butler said, adding, “We damn sure did not guard anybody, and when we do not do that, that’s a trend all year long. “When we’re not making shots, we’re not guarding anybody. So we need to fix that once again where we worry about defense first. The offense will come.”

Perhaps Butler is right. But Boston was the top defensive team in the league this season, and it slowed Kevin Durant in the first round and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round. When the Celtics had their starting five for Game 2 against the Heat, it was not much of a contest.

“Wasn’t surprising to see how well we guarded with our guys back,” Udoka said.

Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is a great coach, and the Heat will do the same thing Boston did after Game 1: examine what went wrong and try to address it in Game 3.

This isn’t an indictment of the Heat. More a testament to the Celtics. When healthy, they have more offensive and defensive resources than the Heat.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter: @JeffZillgitt:.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Celtics draw even with Heat, maintain control of East finals:

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