Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics came out swinging in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night, then Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat answered to put on a dominant show in the second half and secure the 118-107 win and secure the 1-0 series lead.
Butler finished with an incredible 41 points, including 27 in the second half and he outscored Boston himself in the third quarter 17-14. But it wasn’t just the points he scored, he had an impact in every facet of the game — but of course this team always counts on every player to contribute to beat a tough opponent.
While five of the nine Heat active players finished in double digits in scoring, even the four that didn’t made contributions beyond the box score. Gabe Vincent (17 points) once again was excellent in place of the injured Kyle Lowry. Tyler Herro scored 18, mostly in the first half to help keep his team within striking distance with a manageable single-digit deficit.
But perhaps the most impactful player after Butler was PJ Tucker, whose absence was felt in the second quarter after an injury scare that had him in the locker room while the Celtics kept building their lead. Once he returned after halftime, his toughness and rugged determination sparked his team in a myriad of ways.
The team overall won it the classic Heat way, with tough defense that went above and beyond what they displayed during a rusty first half. After yielding 42 points in the paint in the first half, the team only allowed six the rest of the way. Miami finished the game tying a franchise playoff record with 12 blocks, just one indicator of the tremendous effort they displayed as they wore down Boston.
Feelin' a little deja vu with that Bam block pic.twitter.com/TnZPZhsr76— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 18, 2022
Without two of their starters after Marcus Smart and Al Horford, Boston went on an 18-9 run midway through the first quarter and Tatum simply looked unstoppable. He not only attacked the basket at will, he was nailing ridiculous long distance shots as well. Boston led by as many as 13 in the first half, limiting the Heat to 0-7 shooting to start the game. Miami turned it around quickly however, making 10 of their next 11 field goal attempts. Herro tied the game at 21-21 with scoring and 3 assists. Boston fumbled away the ball and Miami forced yet another turnover, which lead to a nifty Victor Oladipo fast break pass for a Caleb Martin dunk to take their first lead of the game.
Thanks mostly to Herro’s heroics and Butler beginning to become more active on offense, Miami kept within reasonable distance to keep the single-digit deficit manageable — even cutting it to five points despite Tatum continuing to easily shred apart the Heat’s defense at just about every opportunity. Boston shot 59% from the field in the first half, outscoring Miami 42-24 in the paint and holding a 17-9 edge in assists through the first two quarters.
Robert Williams III returned from injury and was particularly active in the first half with 12 points and Payton Pritchard came off the bench to score 10 points by halftime to help fill in for Marcus Smart. Herro led the Heat with 15 first half points while Butler had 14.
The Heat roared back in front 64-63 with an early third quarter run punctuated with Gabe Vincent knocking down a long distance 3 as the shot clock expired.
Boston missed their first six shots, scored just two points through the first six minutes of the third quarter and allowed a 22-2 Heat run to fall behind 76-64. Butler got the lead to double-digits after picking off a pair of lazy Tatum passes for easy fast break baskets.
Williams finally scored Boston’s first field goal with less than five minutes left in the quarter and while it started a quick 9-0 run to cut it to three, Butler and the Heat steamrolled their way to finish with 39 points in the third quarter and lead by 17 points in a remarkable display of 12 dominant minutes. Their defense held the heavily-favored Celtics to 2-15 (13%) shooting in the third quarter.
They made the proper adjustments after a listless and disappointing first half and they didn't panic after falling behind early on their home court. Even a Boston 10-0 run early in the fourth to cut the deficit in half didn’t rattle them, and they pushed back every time the Celtics threatened to come back down the stretch with timely baskets and defensive stops. They forced jump balls, pressured Tatum at every opportunity, and didn’t allow Jayson Brown to get going in any impactful way.
It was fitting that the last big play was yet another excellent defensive play.
And guess how we sealed the win? With defense, of course. pic.twitter.com/uP3ooTlxkz— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 18, 2022
Miami returns to action on Thursday night with a chance to make it 2-0 and are now three wins away from returning to the NBA Finals.