After an impressive showing in the first half, in which Jayson Tatum scored 21 points and the Celtics produced 62, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals took a dramatic turn in the third quarter.
The Heat raised their effort and played far more physically coming out of halftime, seizing control of the game and outscoring Boston 39-14 in the frame. Boston regrouped in the fourth quarter, but not to the level necessary to overcome being down by 20 in the fourth quarter.
Now, for a deep dive into how Miami, led by Jimmy Butler, who registered a game-high 41 points while also leading his team in rebounds (9), assists (5), and steals (4), and also had three blocks, improved to 7-0 on their home court in the playoffs with a 118-107 victory.
Celtics Throw the First Punch
Grant Williams opened up the scoring by burying a side-step three from the right wing after Jayson Tatum attacked a switch and swung the ball to him.
Tatum then went strong to the rim, knifing between Gabe Vincent and Max Strus for two points to make it 5-0.
After that, Robert Williams grabbed a Jaylen Brown miss and earned a trip to the line, where he made both free throws. He followed that up by swatting a Vincent floater.
Derrick White then blocked a Strus three from behind, doing a terrific job fighting over a screen. Vincent made a nice effort play to prevent him from scoring in transition, though.
The Heat finally got on the board at the 9:14 mark as Bam Adebayo attacked Grant Williams off the dribble, scoring on a fadeaway jumper from mid-range. P.J. Tucker followed that up with a jumper from 11-feet out to make it 7-4. But at the other end, Brown jab stepped his way to a three from the left wing to put Boston ahead 10-4.
With 6:30 to play in the period, Tyler Herro drilled a three from above the break to make 14-9. Robert Williams countered, retrieving a White miss and banking in the put-back.
The Celtics' next time down the floor, White found Williams for two more points at the rim. Williams looks more explosive than when he suited up in the last two rounds. He could use a sub, though.
Herro then found Jimmy Butler for a pull-up jumper and Adebayo for a layup, making it 18-13. Brown then made a nice pass to Williams for another bucket at the basket, giving him eight points at the 4:23 mark.
Herro made another pair of nice plays just over a minute later, delivering a no-look pass down the court, over the outstretched arm of Brown, feeding Butler for an easy two. He then sank a floater from nine feet. That tied the game at 21 with 2:40 left, prompting Ime Udoka to halt the action.
At the 2:13 mark, after a bad pass from Tatum, Caleb Martin threw down a thunderous one-handed tomahawk jam in transition, giving Miami its first lead of the game, 23-21.
With a minute left in the frame, Tatum drove into the paint and got two points courtesy of a floater to put Boston back on top 25-23. Shortly after that, Payton Pritchard connecting on a three from the left wing to put them up five. Herro then cashed in from 14-feet, bringing the score to 28-25, where it stayed entering the second quarter.
Both teams shot at least 50 percent from the field in the opening period. The Celtics were 11/22, including 3/7 (42.9 percent) from beyond the arc, while the Heat were shooting 54.5 percent despite going 1/5 (20 percent) on threes. They made up for it with 20 points in the paint.
But as evidenced by Boston's shooting percentages and assisting on 8/11 field goals, the Celtics fared well against Miami's defense in the first quarter.
Boston Extends Its Lead Entering Halftime
Tatum started the second-quarter scoring, earning two points at the rim to put the Celtics ahead 30-25. Victor Oladipo responded with a three at the opposite end.
There was also an Aaron Nesmith sighting to start the second quarter. And he quickly made his presence felt, elevating and going chest-to-chest with Martin to deny him a dunk.
He and Pritchard then grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds, leading to a dunk for Robert Williams. That made it 32-28 Boston with 10:15 to play in the frame.
At the 9:29 mark, Tatum got into the paint with ease before throwing a lob to Robert Williams, who's rim-rattling jam made it 34-30 in favor of the visitors.
Then, after a Nesmith steal, redeeming himself for a bad pass, Brown juked out Strus with a euro-step to produce two points at the rim, extending the lead to 36-30.
Shortly after that, he nailed a fadeaway jumper from the top of the key, capitalizing on his size advantage over Strus.
At the 7:42 mark, Robert Williams swatted an Oladipo layup, Butler couldn't convert on the put-back, and Pritchard drilled a three at the other end, putting Boston on top, 41-30, prompting Erik Spoelstra to take a timeout.
With just under 6:30 remaining, Tucker hurt his right foot in a non-contact situation as he stepped in to help against a Brown drive. He then hobbled to the Heat sideline before limping to the locker room. One doesn't want to overreact in the moment, but it's a concerning development. Hopefully, he's ok.
With 5:37 left, the Celtics' size continued bothering Miami, as Oladipo couldn't convert on a layup against Daniel Theis, leading to a Pritchard layup at the opposite end of the floor. That extended their lead to 47-34.
At the 4:31 mark, Tatum made a gorgeous scoop shot, driving from right to left and finishing off the glass. That put Boston ahead 49-39.
With 3:40 to go, Tatum chose to keep possession instead of giving it up to an open Pritchard, creating what he thought was a foul as he went up for the shot. Despite the lack of a whistle, he still earned two points as the jumper went down, giving his team a 53-43 lead.
At the 2:00 mark, Herro couldn't convert from deep inside the paint, but he grabbed his rebound and capitalized on the put-back. But Tatum answered with a side-step three from the right wing, swishing it to give the Celtics a 58-48 advantage.
With slightly over a minute remaining, a bad pass from White got jumped by Herro, who took it in for a layup that made it 58-52. With 32.3 seconds left, after Tatum forcefully rejected a Butler three from the right corner, White got a layup at the other end. Butler countered with a jumper from 20-feet, bringing the score to 62-54 Boston at halftime.
At the end of the first half, Tatum had a game-high 21 points, pairing it with five assists, four rebounds, a steal, and a block. He was the best player on the floor, and it wasn't close.
Robert Williams had 12 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. And Pritchard contributed ten points and four boards off the bench.
As a team, the Celtics shot 59.1 percent from the field, though they cooled down from beyond the arc, finishing the half 5/14 (35.7 percent). That's not to say they struggled from long range.
And more importantly, their ball movement was excellent, and their aggressive approach against a Heat team not playing with their trademark physicality led to 17 assists on 26 field goals and 42 points in the paint. Boston also scored 15 points on fast-break opportunities.
As for the hosts, Miami produced 24 points in the paint, eight at the free-throw line, and eight off seven Celtics turnovers. Herro led them with 15 points off the bench, and Butler registered 14. But Bam Adebayo was quiet, scoring six points, grabbing three rebounds, and not making much of a difference defensively.
Boston Blitzed in the Third Quarter
After getting his ankle re-taped, Tucker was back in the game to start the third quarter.
The Heat came out far more aggressive to open the second half, scoring the first five points and cutting their deficit to 62-59.
With 9:27 to play in the period, Vincent swished a three from 25 feet. Two possessions later, a Butler put-back gave Miami the lead again, 64-63, causing coach Udoka to hit the pause button.
At the 6:40 mark, Butler swished a jumper from 17 feet, giving him 21 points. At that juncture, Miami was in the midst of a 14-point turnaround in the first 5:30 of the third frame.
It only got worse for Boston as a Tatum turnover translated to a Strus layup to make it 72-64 with 6:16 remaining. Butler was fortunate he didn't get called for an illegal screen, impeding Grant Williams from having a chance to challenge Strus.
Following a timeout from coach Udoka, two-straight Miami steals turned into a pair of easy buckets for Butler, including a dunk that extended the home team's run to 22-2.
With 4:53 left in the quarter, the Celtics got a needed basket as White drove into the paint, forced the help to come, then lofted the ball to Robert Williams, who scored and earned a trip the line, where he made it a three-point play. That gave him 17 points and cut Boston's deficit to 76-69.
It took Tatum until the 4:35 mark to score his first points in the period, but his two free throws also expanded the Celtics' run to 7-0. Theis then cleaned up a missed three by Brown to make it 76-73.
At the 2:59 mark, Grant Williams picked up his fourth foul, crashing into Tucker after a bad pass from Brown resulted in a turnover. That brought Nesmith into the game for Williams. Tucker missed both ensuing free throws, but Dewayne Dedmon got the rebound and a layup to give the Heat an 82-74 lead.
With 1:44 remaining, Vincent buried a three from 25 feet, his second-straight basket, extending Miami's advantage to 87-76. Theis and Dedmon than had consecutive blocks to keep the score where Vincent left it.
Nesmith had back-to-back rejections as the quarter wound down, but after his second one, Butler grabbed the loose ball and got the second-year wing to bite on a pump fake, sending him to the free-throw line. He made both foul shots, putting the Heat ahead 93-76, entering the fourth quarter. It was their largest lead to that point.
Boston committed eight turnovers in the frame, many of them being unforced. Butler and company turned those mistakes into 12 points, helping them outscore the Celtics 39-14. They didn't just commit careless turnovers, but they also had one assist after producing 17 in the first half.
Free Throws Get Celtics Back in the Game, but It's Not Enough
At the 10:45 mark in the fourth quarter, after impressive rotations by Miami, keeping up with Boston's ball movement, culminating in Oladipo blocking a Nesmith three, Herro got fouled by Nesmith, earning three free throws. He made all of them, extending the hosts lead to 96-76.
Less than a minute later, Brown tried to loft a pass to Robert Williams, but Adebayo was expecting him to shoot and backed into a box out on Williams, who was airborne, resulting in a hard foul. After reviewing it, the officials upgraded the call to a flagrant-1. Most importantly, Williams appeared ok, staying in the game. He went 1/2 at the free-throw line, making it 96-79.
Pritchard then buried a three from the left corner to bring Boston within 14. After the shot went down, Strus pushed down Grant Williams under the basket, which could only happen if the latter exaggerated the contact. Williams then shoved Strus, and both players got hit with a technical. Williams then picked up his fifth foul, but he stayed in the game.
Brown then missed a pair of free throws, but the Celtics retained possession, and he knocked down a baseline jumper from 16 feet. That brought Boston within 12, 96-84.
With 8:21 left, Grant Williams cut into the paint, and as the ball came his way, a forceful collision between he and Adebayo resulted in both players being down on the court in pain. But they stayed in, and Williams went to the line where he made both shots. That made it a 10-0 run for the Celtics, trimming their deficit to 96-86. It also prompted coach Spoelstra to halt play.
With Butler back in, he ended Boston's run with a high-arching baseline jumper over Tatum as the shot clock expired. Tatum responded with a three, making it 98-89.
But after that, Vincent continued having a terrific night, finding Tucker for a three from the right corner. Brown matched it at the other end, keeping the Celtics within nine, 101-92. Strus was then left open beyond the arc, and he countered Brown's three, extending Miami's lead to 104-92 with 6:34 left.
With 6:02 remaining, Robert Williams fouled Adebayo as the latter drove baseline. Williams' calf cramped up after that, and while he wanted to stay in, the Celtics aired on the side of caution.
At the 5:00 mark, after a pair of free throws by Brown cut it to 105-94, the Heat continued their relentless approach of putting Pritchard into actions against Butler. Again, they found success as he swished a jumper over the shorter Pritchard from inside the free-throw line.
With 3:41 left, Theis pitched Brown the ball, and he drilled a three at the left wing, pulling Boston with ten, 109-99, resulting in coach Spoelstra taking a timeout.
After the break, the Heat went back to the well, putting Pritchard in a pick-and-roll action involving Butler as the ball-hander. He then attacked off the dribble and swung the ball to Strus, who swished a three from 27 feet. That made it 112-99 with 3:18 on the clock, prompting coach Udoka to call for a full timeout.
When play resumed, Tatum delivered a pass from the pinch post on the right to Brown for a three from the left corner to make it a ten-point game again. But Butler countered spinning and sinking a mid-range fadeaway over Tatum, giving the Heat a 114-102 advantage with 2:30 left.
With 1:28 remaining, Pritchard pulled up and connected on a 25-foot three in transition, bringing Boston within seven, 114-107. Coach Udoka planned to empty the bench but kept everyone in after that.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, they couldn't get any closer than that as Miami earned a 118-107 win, outscoring the visitors 64-45 in the second half to improve to 7-0 on their home court in the playoffs.
Tatum finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and four steals. But after being the best player on the floor in the first half, he went quiet in the second, scoring only eight points. He also committed seven of Boston's 16 turnovers.
Brown registered 24 points and ten rebounds, but he shot 60 percent (6/10) at the free-thrown line. Robert Williams scored 18 points and grabbed nine boards. And Pritchard produced 18 off the bench, also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. However, he frequently got targeted by the Heat. As much as Boston likes to switch on screens, it's best for them to take a different approach with Pritchard against Butler, at the least.
Butler utilized that mismatch to help generate a game-high 41 points, going 17/18 at the free-throw line, and paired that production with nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks, leading his team in each category but that last one. Like Tatum in the first half, Butler was the best player in the second, and it wasn't close.
Herro contributed 18 off the bench, and Vincent, who continues to step up in Kyle Lowry's absence, scored 17 in the Heat's series-opening win.
Ending on a positive, after registering one assist in the third quarter, the Celtics got back to moving the ball well in the final frame, helping them take 12 free throws, making nine of them, and outscoring Miami 31-25 in the period. While it didn't offset a disastrous third quarter, perhaps it will help them better handle the Heat's physicality and avoiding a dramatic drop off in Game 2.
The second matchup of this Eastern Conference Finals series between the Celtics and Heat is Thursday night at 8:30 ET. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.