Celtics

8 takeaways as Heat crush short-handed Celtics in second half of Game 1

The Celtics embarrassed themselves in the third quarter.

Celtics Heat Game 1
Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat celebrates a basket against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference finals. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

For the second consecutive series, the Celtics lost Game 1 — falling 118-107 to the Heat on Tuesday in their Eastern Conference finals opener.

It’s tough to see Tuesday’s loss as anything but an opportunity missed. The Celtics were without Marcus Smart (mid-foot sprain) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols), but they ran out to a big first-half lead that ballooned as high as 13.

Then, in the second half, disaster. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown couldn’t stop turning the ball over (Tatum finished the third quarter with a staggering six), and the Heat embarrassed the Celtics — putting together a 20-2 run that erased the deficit and rendered the Celtics’ answering 9-0 run insufficient. Jimmy Butler stole pass after pass as Tatum finished with seven turnovers, and Brown couldn’t find a shooting rhythm until the fourth quarter — at which point the game was essentially a lost cause anyway. The Celtics outscored the Heat in the first, second and fourth quarters, but the Heat won the third 39-14 which proved utterly insurmountable.

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“I think we have to come out with a little more sense of urgency in the third,” Tatum said. “And that’s on all of us. That’s a choice we have to make.”

To cap off a disastrous evening, the Celtics kept the game just close enough in the fourth quarter to leave their best players in. As a result, both Tatum and Brown played more than 40 minutes in a game the Celtics were never likely to win.

As they proved last round, the Celtics are a resilient bunch. If it wasn’t for Tatum’s game-winning layup against the Nets, the Celtics likely would have lost Game 1 in every series so far. They can take a hit and punch back quickly, which is meaningful after a loss that ugly.

Whether or not they can be resilient if Horford and/or Smart remain on the bench remains to seen.

More takeaways

2. After the first half, Tatum looked like he was going to win the superstar battle comfortably against Butler, but Butler was transcendent in the second half. He finished with 41 points on 12-for-19 shooting, thanks in part to a 17-for-18 performance at the free throw line. Celtics fans can complain about Butler getting superstar calls, but he forced the issue getting into the paint, and when he didn’t get calls, he still made shots.

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“I like physicality,” Butler said. “I want to run into people and see who falls down first. I want to see who quits first.”

The Celtics need a new plan if Smart remains out for the foreseeable future. The Heat targeted Pritchard hyper-efficiently 16 times, and Butler in particular seemed almost offended that the Celtics’ switching defense deemed Pritchard an appropriate matchup for him.

3. Robert Williams left the game grabbing at his knee in the fourth quarter, but Ime Udoka said he was simply cramping up in his first game back on the floor. Williams was brilliant in the first half — 12 points, 5-for-5 shooting, two blocks — but the Celtics struggled to find him as consistently in the second. Going forward, the Celtics could have a real size advantage with Williams in the game if their ball-handlers can get downhill.

4. It’s worth remembering that the Celtics needed to revamp their game plan quickly after Horford was ruled out. They were already trying to figure out how to beat the Heat without Smart, but Horford’s absence threw a wrench into the proceedings that proved impossible to overcome.

5. Gabe Vincent, who is averaging 8.3 points per game in the playoffs, scored 17 points and buried three huge 3-pointers against heavy contests from the Celtics. Defending the Heat looks a lot different than defending the Bucks — bully-ball is physically taxing, but the Celtics have to stay locked in against Miami’s guards.

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6. The Celtics might have built a huge first-half lead of their own if it wasn’t for Tyler Herro, who led the Heat on a 15-7 run to tie the game in the first quarter after a quick start by the Celtics. The Celtics defended Herro well the rest of the way, which is an encouraging sign for Game 2.

7. Aaron Nesmith came off the bench for the first time in rotation playoff minutes and had a couple of spectacular defensive plays, but he had the same number of blocks (three) as field-goal attempts (and he missed all of them). The Celtics got some floor spacing and 3-point shooting from Pritchard, who will probably remain in the rotation when Smart comes back even after he was targeted heavily by the Heat.

8. Game 2 tips off on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

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