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Grant Williams shows fight in Game 2 loss

In a series that has been defined by mental toughness, the Celtics forward stepped up against Jimmy Butler.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Two Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

“Next question.”

That was Jaylen Brown’s two-word answer on whether Grant Williams made a mistake of going literally head-to-head with Jimmy Butler in the fourth quarter.

Butler’s two-word answer on whether Williams was the defensive answer to stopping him?

“Hell no.”

It’s been an epic postseason for Butler and the close of Game 2 was no different. With nearly six minutes left in the final frame, Williams hit a big 3 to put the Celtics up nine points, 96-87. Jogging back on defense, he started jawing with Butler. Butler, in turn, seemed to laugh it off and, unfortunately for Boston, went to work. On the ensuing play, he hit an and-1 in Williams’ face and then it got chippy:

“Yes, it did,” Butler said, crediting his confrontation with Williams for turning up the heat. “But that’s just competition at his finest. He hit a big shot and started talking to me. I like that. I’m all for that. It makes me key in a lot more and it pushes that will that I have to win a lot more. It makes me smile — it does. When people talk to me, I’m like, ‘OK, I know I’m a decent player if you want to talk to me out of everybody that you can talk to.’ It’s just competition. I do respect him though. He’s a big part of what they try to do. He switches. He can shoot the ball. I just don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to.”

Butler and Williams would proceed to trade buckets for a stretch until two mid-range fadeaways — both in isolation with Grant contesting both shots well — would tie and give the Heat the lead for good in a 111-105 loss and the Celtics’ second consecutive at TD Garden.

The explosive exchange was Williams’ baptism into the Eastern Conference Finals after not seeing the floor in Game 1 (Payton Pritchard received minutes as the 8th man in the rotation). He responded, making several hustle plays in the first half and hitting big shots in the clutch.

In a series that has been defined by attention to detail and mental toughness, the Celtics again fell short. However, in Williams, they showed some fighting spirit.

“I’m a competitor. I’m going to battle. He got the best of me tonight. At the end of the day, it’s a sign of respect,” Williams said of his clash with Jimmy. “I’m not going to run away from it. My mom and dad always taught me, ‘you get your a$% kicked, you don’t come home until you battle again. You either go back and die or you come back with a win.’ I’m not willing to die in these Finals. I’m ready to $%@&ing get a win. I’m ready to come back into Game 3 with a better mentality.”

The national narrative will be that he, as Williams put it, “poked the bear” and got what was coming to him. Dillon Brooks learned that lesson against LeBron James and the Lakers. To a man, his coach and teammates all shook off the verbal altercation as a product of the heat of the moment.

Jayson Tatum “didn’t think much of it” and Mazzulla was quick to point out that Williams “didn’t do anything wrong” and that he “liked his physicality, his rebounding, and his ability to communicate defensively.” And from a defensive standpoint, Williams couldn’t have done much better against Butler in the fourth quarter. Talking heads and fans will have a field day with the tête-à-tête as if trash talk willed those buckets in and not Jimmy Buckets himself.

Confidence and drive are certainly part of what makes every professional athlete tick, but if you’re so quick to blame Williams for igniting Butler’s fire, you have to credit him for lighting his, too.

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