Just as they did last year, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat walked into TD Garden, overcame a 13-point deficit and defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals to take home-court advantage.
The Celtics rebounded from that loss to win Game 2 and eventually play their way into the NBA Finals by winning the series in seven games. The Celtics face a similar task in these East finals after the Heat outscored them 46-25 in the third quarter en route to a 123-116 win.
Still, Boston has the confidence in knowing it was in this same spot last year and prevailed.
The Celtics can use a Game 2 win to springboard their own momentum in the series and attempt to get back to the Finals under first-year coach Joe Mazzulla, while the Heat have the opportunity to capture what they failed to claim in last year’s Game 2 and send the series to Miami with a commanding 2-0 lead.
Here’s a breakdown of the biggest takeaways from the series, and what it might mean for Boston and Miami going forward:
Boston can’t allow another disastrous quarter
A lot of focus will be paid to the third quarter of Game 1, when Miami outscored Boston 46-25 to turn the game and deliver the Heat a series-opening victory for a third straight time in these playoffs.
But the story of this game goes far deeper. The more important numbers: 10 assists for Marcus Smart in the first half and one in the second.
The Celtics are at their best when they are moving the ball, and specifically when Smart is the one orchestrating it. While he’s not known for his offense — he was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-22 — Smart has always been an underrated facilitator. For a team that can tend to watch the ball stick on offense, that ball movement is critical.
As the game slipped away from Boston in the second half, that’s precisely what happened: The offense devolved into isolation situations, Boston began turning over the ball and Miami raced the other way for easy buckets.
“We just got really antsy,” Smart said after Game 1. “First half, we were getting to our spots and we were getting the easy shots, the great shots.
“Second half, we were all clustered up on each other.”
Boston went from 15 assists against five turnovers in the first half to having seven assists and 10 turnovers in the second. It’s a reminder that the Celtics will have to improve their ball movement if they want to even the series.
— Tim Bontemps
Boston goes as Tatum goes
All-NBA star Jayson Tatum has proved time and again he can take over a game. Look no further than Sunday’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, where his 51 points — the most ever in a Game 7 — propelled the Celtics to the conference finals.
Late in Wednesday’s Game 1 loss to the Heat, however, that version of Tatum was missing — he didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter.
According to Second Spectrum tracking, Game 1 featured Tatum’s second-fewest touches (13) and dribbles (34) in a fourth quarter this postseason.
Which raises the question: How exactly can the Celtics open the floor to help Tatum?
“You have to fight for advantages,” Mazzulla said. “You got to fight to create separation. And so, being able to make the adjustment on how we play versus one defense, versus on switching defenses, is important.”
Boston’s clustered spacing against Miami’s changing defensive schemes led to a slower second-half pace that, at times, limited Tatum, as he was called for two travels in the fourth quarter.
“Just got to slow down a little bit in those moments,” Tatum said.
Much of Tatum’s difficulty in scoring in the fourth quarter had to do with Heat All-Star Butler, who guarded Tatum more than any other player in the game. When Butler defended him throughout Game 1, Tatum shot just 38% from the field. Tatum was a 60% shooter when other Heat players checked him.
— Coley Harvey
Butler has carried Miami through the playoffs
After Game 1, Heat guard Gabe Vincent was asked to describe the feeling within the Heat’s locker room after an impressive comeback win.
“Not satisfied,” Vincent said.
Ever since Miami snuck into the postseason, it has played with a swagger befitting the top team in the East, not the No. 8 seed in the midst of a historic tear, three wins away from another Finals appearance. When asked to describe the group’s confidence heading into Game 2 on Friday, Kyle Lowry was quick with his response.
Is Jimmy Butler the closest current player to Kobe?
Jay Williams and Monica McNutt debate if Jimmy Butler is the closest current player to Kobe Bryant.
“You listen to Jimmy, right?” Lowry said.
Lowry’s answer speaks to exactly how players and coaches feel within the Heat organization. It’s why coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 1 that Butler’s impact on the rest of the group can’t be quantified.
The difference between the Heat now and the Heat just before the playoffs starts with Butler’s ability to put the team on his back.
Spoelstra once again sang Butler’s praises after Game 1, especially his performance late in the win.
“As one of the premier, if not the premier, two-way basketball players in this association, that’s what we needed,” Spoelstra said. “We needed him to make some plays defensively. We needed him to also just be ball containment defensively. … And then down the stretch, Jimmy was able to just do everything we needed as a scorer or as a facilitator. He’s willing to do both.”
It’s a feeling that can’t be measured by just looking at Butler’s elite Game 1 box score numbers of 35 points, 7 assists, 6 steals and 5 rebounds, and it remains the most defining characteristic of this particular Heat run.
The trust within the group is strong, and Butler is cementing it a little more each day.
— Nick Friedell
History is on Boston’s side in Game 2
There’s a remarkable postseason trend that has continued into these playoffs: Teams that lose Game 1 at home have won Game 2, often in blowout fashion. The last team to lose both games at home to start a series was the LA Clippers in their 2021 first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks, which they came back to win in seven games.
Since then, Game 1 home losers are 16-0 in Game 2 with an average victory margin of 17.2 points. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to put this trend to the test this year: The eight Game 1 losses by the home team have been the most in any playoffs in NBA history.
Incredibly, three of those road wins have come from Miami, which has won Game 1 of all three series without home-court advantage. The Heat have been unable to take a 2-0 lead in either series, losing by 16 points at the Milwaukee Bucks under a hail of 3-pointers and by six points at the New York Knicks without Butler, who missed the game because of an ankle sprain.
Those Game 2 losses haven’t prevented Miami from finishing off each series, and overall the Game 1 road winners have gone on to win five of the seven instances this year. Over the long term, however, a road split isn’t actually a great position for the lower seed to be in. The team with home-court advantage still wins a narrow majority of those series (51% of seven-game series since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984).
As a result, the Heat can’t feel comfortable with one win in Boston.
— Kevin Pelton