Shorthanded C’s Drop Game 1 Despite Three Winning Quarters
A 118-107 defeat to the Miami Heat wasn’t how the Boston Celtics had pictured opening the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday night, but all things considered, it wasn’t a terribly worrisome stumble out of the gate.
Looking past the final score at the finer details of the game, it’s clear that Boston was the better team for three quarters of the night. It was just one dismal third-quarter effort, during which the Celtics were outscored 39-14, that ultimately spelled their doom.
“We won three quarters and won the transition battle,” C’s head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “We won the second-chance points battle, won the points in the paint, and really had one poor quarter that hurt us, and it was strictly from a physicality standpoint. It wasn't anything different that they did. They just came out and imposed their will.”
After being down eight at halftime, Miami emerged from the break and hit Boston in the mouth by going on a 22-2 run. The Heat increased their physicality and swallowed up the Celtics on the defensive end, forcing eight turnovers while limiting Boston to just two field-goal makes throughout the entire frame.
“We talked about it at halftime: they're going to increase the physicality, and it was a little disappointing that we came out and got caught off guard as far as that,” said Udoka. “But simple clean-ups. As far as what we've always preached is, don't play in the crowd, if you draw two or three, find your outlets, and we did that extremely well in the first half, finding guys for kick-out threes and dump-offs at the basket. Kind of reverted back for one quarter, and it cost us.”
Despite going down by as many as 20 points, the C’s never completely folded. They rallied back in the fourth quarter to cut their deficit down to seven, though it was still too much to overcome in the end.
“At least we bounced back in the fourth,” Udoka stated. “We started to play a little bit and matched their physicality, but disappointing that we came out as flat as we did (in the third quarter) and they increased physicality, strictly that, and made that much of a difference.”
Another difference-maker was the play of Jimmy Butler. The veteran wing continued his postseason tear by scoring a game-high 41 points despite not making a single 3-pointer. Butler was unstoppable from inside the arc, where he shot 12-of-17 while also making 18 trips to the free-throw line.
On Boston’s side, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 53 points. However, they were missing two of their fellow starters in Marcus Smart and Al Horford.
Smart’s void was anticipated after suffering a mid-foot sprain in Sunday’s Game 7 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Horford’s absence was more of a surprise, as he entered the league’s Health and Safety Protocols shortly before tip-off.
“We've got to be even more disciplined,” Jaylen Brown said of playing without their two defensive anchors. “Obviously, we weren’t prepared to be without Al. We definitely weren’t prepared to be without Al and Smart. It's not an excuse; we've just got to be better.”
Brown later added that the Celtics will be better, noting how “uncharacteristic” it was for them to give up 118 points – their worst defensive effort of the playoffs.
They’ll quickly move past the loss, watch film Wednesday to see where they can improve, and make adjustments heading into Game 2 just like they did in the last series after dropping Game 1 to the Bucks.
“We've got to transition to the next game, learn from it, leave it behind and get ready for the next one,” said Brown.
The next one should be a better one, as long as the Celtics can match Miami’s physicality without any lapses and play a full four quarters instead of just three.