By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The bad blood is flowing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The gritty Celtics fought back against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 on Tuesday night to earn a 107-94 win, taking a 2-0 lead in the series. It was a frustrating second half for the Cavaliers, so of course J.R. Smith did something dirty and stupid.
The Cavaliers guard delivered a dirty and dangerous two-hand shove to the back of Al Horford as the Celtics forward went up for an alley-oop attempt late in the fourth quarter. Horford was OK after his fall to the floor, but Marcus Smart was not too pleased with Smith.
Smart immediately got face-to-face with Smith to let him know he didn’t appreciate the shove. Smith pushed Smart out of the way, and Smart looked like he was ready to tear Smith’s face off until Tristian Thompson stepped in and corralled the Celtics guard.
Both players were hit with technical fouls and Smith was given a flagrant 1, though a flagrant 2 and an ejection was more suitable.
Celtics fans starting a potty-mouthed chant toward Smith during the review, and Smart called him a “bully” after the game.
“We’re out there to play basketball. Al was defenseless in the air. He can’t control where his body goes. You take two hands to the back, that’s a dirty shot,” said Smart. “You just can’t allow that to keep happening. This isn’t the first time J.R. has done some dirty stuff, especially against us.
“It’s like a bully,” Smart continued. “You let a bully keep picking on you, he’s going to keep picking on you until you finally stand up. That’s what I tried to do. One of my guys was down and I took offense to it.”
Smith, who missed all seven of his shots and finished with as many points as the fans in the stands on Tuesday, certainly has a history against the Celtics. During the Celtics-Cavaliers first-round matchup in the 2015 playoffs, he smacked Jae Crowder in the face under the basket, causing the C’s forward to crumble to the ground and sprain his ACL. Smith was ejected for the game and hit with a two-game suspension from the NBA.
We’ll see if he receives any time off for his latest hijinks.
Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue chastised his team for their lack of toughness, while also taking a shot at the Celtics in the process.
“They’re playing tougher than we are. We see that. They’re being physical, they’re gooning the game up, and we have to do the same thing,” said Lue. “We have to be tougher, mentally and physically.”
He’s right about everything except for the gooning it up. Shocking since he had a front-row seat for his Smith’s, shall we say, “goonish” antics.
Horford had a much better explanation for the hard-nosed play the Celtics displayed over the final 24 minutes of the game, propelling them to their victory.
“We just play hard, we go out there and we compete,” said Horford. “Celtics basketball, we are really embracing Celtics basketball.”
The series now shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Saturday night, and the four days between games likely won’t do much to squash the beef between Smart and Smith. But the Celtics have to feel pretty good about having Smart on their side in this fight — and any fight for that matter.