Celtics vs. Heat score, takeaways: Miami's shooting is for real; Boston struggles late in East finals opener
Jimmy Butler outplays Jayson Tatum down the stretch in Heat's Game 1 win
Plenty of basketball observers felt that Boston's second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers was the true Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat would respectfully disagree. The No. 8 seed waltzed into Boston on Wednesday and took Game 1 against the Celtics with a stunning 123-116 upset.
Just as you'd expect, Jimmy Butler led the way for Miami with 35 points, picking up right where he left off against Boston after scoring 82 points in his final two games against them in last year's Eastern Conference finals. As for Boston's superstar? Jayson Tatum had a stellar first half, but his quiet second was one of the stories of the night. He turned the ball over three times without making a field goal in the fourth quarter as Boston's late-game offense imploded.
The Heat pushed the Celtics to seven games a year ago. They beat them in the Eastern Conference finals in 2020. Disregard record, seeds and expectations. The Heat are here to stay, and if the Celtics don't shape up quickly, they're going to be Miami's latest postseason victim. Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 1.
Miami's shooting is for real
Miami was a bad 3-point shooting team in the regular season. The Heat ranked 27th in 3-point percentage across the first 82 games they played, and that was with Tyler Herro in the fold. This has created a bit of a problem for Miami's postseason opponents, though, because they are operating with outdated information. Defenses continue to game-plan around a Heat team that can't shoot. In the playoffs, Miami has ranked fifth in 3-point shooting, and up until their last few, cold games against the Knicks, they were making just about everything.
Yet Boston, a team equipped to stop 3-point shooters by switching all screens, instead prioritized the rim. Boston's help frequently sagged towards the basket, especially when Jimmy Butler had the ball. The result was a parade of open 3-pointers from the corner. Miami made 16 3's in all, hitting 51.6% of their attempts. The Celtics outscored the Heat by 22 points in the paint, but it didn't matter because Miami was so accurate from deep.
None of this should be especially surprising, though, because Miami's shooting was far better a season ago. The Heat ranked first in the NBA in 3-point shooting during the 2021-22 regular season, but a number of formerly reliable shooters like Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson all happened to have down years at the same time. All three have bounced back in the playoffs, and with Butler shedding his regular-season 3-point aversion in the playoffs as he does every year, the Heat are right back to where they were a year ago. Now it's up to Boston to accept that their opponent is going to make 3's if they're left wide open.
More of the same for Boston's offense
Boston's core has now been to the Eastern Conference finals five times in the past seven seasons. This is not some young team unaccustomed to the rigors of the postseason. Yet time and time again, this offseason finds ways to collapse down the stretch of close games. Boston entered Game 1 with an 0-3 record in playoff games decided by seven points or less. They're now 0-4.
The beginning of Boston's offensive struggles boiled down to poor process. Jayson Tatum didn't attempt a single field goal in the fourth quarter, scoring all of his points at the free throw line. Most often, he was operating as either a screener or a spacer while another Celtic, most frequently Jaylen Brown or Malcolm Brogdon, tried and failed to create shots. When the Celtics did finally work the ball into Tatum in the last few minutes, he simply wasted his chances. He turned the ball over three times in a 91-second span with under three minutes to play to seal the loss.
Those turnovers nearly sank the Celtics against the Heat last season. Brogdon's turnover at the end of Game 1 against Philadelphia easily could have swung that series to the 76ers. The Brogdon acquisition was supposed to give the Celtics a late-game organizer offensively, but they were just as disjointed as ever Wednesday night.
Miami's Game 1 dominance
Most of the best coaches in the NBA get lauded for their adjustments within a playoff series. Erik Spoelstra has a much more efficient approach. He simply makes his best moves right away and eliminates the need for those desperate adjustments entirely. Since landing Jimmy Butler in 2019, the Heat are 9-2 in Game 1's. Six of those wins have been as the lower seed and three of them have come on the road. (The other three were in the Orlando bubble.)
His tweaks entering this season were relatively subtle. He maintained the same starting lineup and only scaled back two of his weakest defenders (Kevin Love and Duncan Robinson) to adjust to an offense with far more firepower than New York's. He sacrificed the paint by playing smaller, but the extra minutes that went to Caleb Martin and Kyle Lowry were necessities against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and it gave them the extra speed needed to generate the 15 turnovers that helped win them the game. Once again, Miami's zone defense stifled Boston in the second half. The Celtics have seen it three times in the past four postseasons, however, they still haven't figured out how to set up playmakers at the nail.
Joe Mazzulla will have answers in Game 2. Boston remains a heavy favorite in the series. But Game 1 is typically the best opportunity an underdog has to steal a road game because it's when their tactics are freshest. The Celtics weren't ready for what Spoelstra showed them on Wednesday. His opponents rarely are. Now the onus is on Boston to win a road game. It's worth noting that neither the Knicks nor the Bucks did so in the first two rounds.
More statistical notes
Boston had a 62-40 advantage in points in the paint, but Miami overcame this with awesome jump shooting. The Heat shot 16-31 (51.6%) from deep and, according to Cleaning The Glass, 9-14 on long 2s.
Again, a lot of this was Jimmy Butler, who did not come off the floor in the first, third or fourth quarters, but it was definitely not just him. Kyle Lowry scored 13 points in the second quarter, making his first five shots and giving Miami an enormous boost off the bench. The third quarter was when the Heat took over the game, and Max Strus was on the floor the whole time, scoring 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting in that frame after taking only one shot in the first half.
Other notes: The turnover battle, the offensive rebounding battle and the transition battle were all virtually even. Boston had a huge advantage at the free throw line (22-29 to 15-19), but that wasn't enough.
Miami takes Game 1
For the third straight series, the eighth-seeded Heat have won Game 1 on the road. This required another brilliant performance from Playoff Jimmy, but it was also a balanced effort.
FINAL SCORE: Heat 123, Celtics 116
Jimmy Butler: 35 points on 12-25 FG, 2-4 3PT, 9-10 FT, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals in 43 minutes
Bam Adebayo: 20 points on 9-13 FG, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal in 37 minutes
Max Strus: 15 points on 6-10 FG, 3-5 3PT in 34 minutes
Gabe Vincent: 15 points on 4-6 FG, 3-5 3PT, 4-4 FT in 36 minutes
Caleb Martin: 15 points on 6-11 FG, 3-7 3PT in 30 minutes
Kyle Lowry: 15 points on 6-12 FG, 3-5 3PT in 28 minutes
Jayson Tatum: 30 points on 9-17 FG, 1-3 3PT, 11-11 FT, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 4 turnovers in 41 minutes
Jaylen Brown: 22 points on 10-21 FG, 1-6 3PT, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 turnovers in 38 minutes
Malcolm Brogdon: 19 points on 7-14 FG, 2-4 3PT in 17 minutes
Big bounce for Butler
Just a huuuuuuge shot for Jimmy Butler on a late-clock 3 with about a minute left. This was an incredibly difficult look, off the dribble, and the ball bounced around before dropping in. Butler has been phenomenal creating for both himself and others, especially in the fourth quarter, and he's made big defensive plays, too. He has 34 points, five rebounds, seven assists and six steals with 27.7 seconds on the clock and the Heat up by eight.
Tough Tatum turnovers
Late in the fourth, Jayson Tatum has committed three costly turnovers, first a live-ball turnover on a pass that was stolen by Jimmy Butler and then two consecutive travels. He's also only taken five shots in the second half. He's going to take some heat -- pun kind of intended -- after this game.
According to Turner Sports' Allie LaForce, Jaylen Brown spent the entirety of the timeout at the 4:47 mark trying to stop his hand from bleeding. This does not sound great -- and, presumably, it didn't look great -- but, again, he has stayed in the game.
Malcolm Brogdon is a solid, switchable defender. He's smart, strong and has super long arms. When he's on the court with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, though, he is something of a weak link. Jimmy Butler has repeatedly targeted him tonight, and about halfway through the fourth, he did it on multiple possessions, first making a pull-up jumper and then airballing a tougher one. Derrick White has experienced this in Boston, too, even though he made the All-Defensive team this year. (Time and score update: 4:47 left, Heat up 114-109.)
Boston turns up the defense, but...
The Celtics have forced Miami into empty possessions in which it has used up the entire shot clock multiple times in this quarter. The most recent one led directly to a transition 3 from Derrick White on the other end. Jimmy Butler is not discouraged, though -- he set up Bam Adebayo for a floater, then made a tough 2 and then came up with a steal (Jaylen Brown's sixth turnover).
Brown is toughing it out
Jaylen Brown appeared to hurt his elbow or wrist after driving to the basket, falling to the floor and having Bam Adebayo fall on him. On the Celtics' next offensive possession, though, he attacked to the basket and scored, drawing a foul in the process. He appears to be uncomfortable, but he is staying in the game. A few possessions later, he and Adebayo got tangled up again going for a loose ball.
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