Celtics Bench Stars in Its Role in Game 1 Win vs. Heat: 'An Identity of Our Team'

Apr 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) steals the ball from the Miami Heat.
Apr 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) steals the ball from the Miami Heat. / Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

As he's done all season, Jayson Tatum maintained a steadfast commitment to making the right play, not getting bored by making the simple pass or forcing the issue as the Miami Heat repeatedly sent a second defender at him.

That allowed his teammates to find an early rhythm and helped the hosts of Sunday's matinee at TD Garden play from ahead throughout a contest it never trailed.

From a scoring standpoint, the two who benefitted the most from Tatum leveraging the Heat's approach against them were Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard.

Inside-out ball movement, players making the extra swing pass, and Al Horford often occupying a backline defender in Miami's zone defense, freeing Hauser for open threes, played a pivotal role in propelling the Boston Celtics to a 114-94 Game 1 win on their parquet.

"Everything's connected," said Joe Mazzulla after Sunday's victory. "So, I thought Jayson's poise and ability to make plays came because of our spacing and because of Sam, Payton, and those guys' shot-making. 

"And so, we handled the zone a little bit differently, and they were forcing us into some two-on-ones, and we made the right play. So, it's a credit to our passing and a credit to the playmaking. It just shows you how each guy has an impact on the next guy."

Hauser registered personal playoff-highs with 12 points and four made threes on six attempts. Pritchard finished with eight points, five assists, and four rebounds.

They were instrumental in Boston building a 25-12 advantage in second-unit scoring in the first 36 minutes. As the hosts eased off the gas and committed six turnovers in the final frame, Miami's bench chipped in 18 points, bringing the final tally to 30-29 in favor of the Celtics' second unit.

But that initial edge, accumulated in the first three quarters, was crucial to having enough cushion to never let the visitors' comeback attempt narrow the gap to fewer than 14 points.

"Extremely important," stated Tatum at the podium post-game. "Sam was a big reason. He kind of extended the game in the second quarter. They cut it to three or four, and Sam made three of four threes. 

"You're going to need things like that to be successful in the playoffs. It's not always gonna be the guys who started the game. Any given night, we're gonna count on somebody off the bench to change the pace of the game, kind of mess things up in a good way. To change the dynamic of what we're doing."

And while Hauser and Pritchard's contributions as scorers are essential to the Celtics' success, especially in the playoffs, the seventh and eighth players in Boston's rotation make an impact at both ends.

A part of what gives their teammates confidence in the two's shot-making is that even if their attempts aren't falling, they don't buckle, finding other ways to help the cause without allowing misses to rattle their cage.

What unfolded in the C's 101-100 win over the Sacramento Kings in April is a testament to that. 

Hauser went 1/18 but after his attempt at a game-winning shot got thwarted, and no call came despite him getting fouled, the third-year forward stayed present, knocking the ball out of Keegan Murray's hands and into Xavier Tillman Sr.'s, setting up a floater to propel Boston past an opponent fighting desperately for playoff positioning.

After jumping out to a 1-0 series lead against the Heat, Mazzulla referenced that game.

"You can't get to the percentage that you have unless you shoot them," expressed Boston's bench boss. "And I texted him after the 1/18 game and said, 'The ultimate compliment is you got to miss 12 threes in an NBA game.' That's a huge positive. You have to look at that, that way. 

"And so, we need those guys to be effective, but I think the shooting is easy to pay attention to. But both of those guys defensively were really, really solid. And that's been a difference, I think in both those guys, throughout the year. Their ability to impact the game defensively is just as important as their shooting. That's a huge strength of ours."

Derrick White, who finished with 20 points and four assists in the win against Miami, noted another example of Hauser not shutting down mentally, as the six-foot-eight sharpshooter missed his first two looks from beyond the arc before burying the next four.

"With him, it doesn't really seem like his downs are really that down," conveyed White. "Obviously, he missed the first two, but great looks, and any time he shoots the ball, we all think it's going in. He's been great for us all year, and that stretch was huge for us to kind of get the momentum back on our side. Defensively, he always competes; he always does his job."

Tatum, who generated a team-high 23 points, and whose ten rebounds and ten assists led those categories, posting his first playoff triple-double, said of Hauser's impact on Sunday: "We kept finding the right man, and he was hot, and shot it with confidence."

Regarding the second unit's role in the Celtics starting this Eastern Conference Finals rematch off on a better note than Game 1 against Miami last year on the same parquet, Mazzulla offered the following.

"I would say the bench, in general, that's been an identity of our team all year. So, you can't get into a playoff and shut those guys out. You gotta give them their run because they just bring a different dynamic to the game. And even some of the guys that didn't play have to be ready. It's only one game, and a series takes on a life of its own. But we need our bench (and) we need our depth in order to maximize this opportunity that we have. They did a great job."

Further Reading

Jayson Tatum Discusses First-Career Playoff Triple-Double: 'A Beautiful Game'

Celtics Protect the Parquet in Dominant Display in Game 1 vs. Heat

Kristaps Porzingis Makes Clear What Celtics' Mindset is Entering Playoffs

How do the Heat Adapt Without Jimmy Butler? Joe Mazzulla Weighs in

'I Knew It': Jaylen Brown Discusses Celtics Drawing Heat in Round 1

Brad Stevens Addresses Potential Extension with Derrick White

Celtics Embracing Challenge to Go Beyond Most Talented

Jayson Tatum Opens Up About Sacrificing in Celtics' Title Pursuit: 'It's a Process'

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Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.