MIAMI — There was a lot to digest from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, a 118-107 victory for the Miami Heat. The Boston Celtics won three of the four quarters but got absolutely clobbered in the third. And that was the difference as the Heat took a 1-0 series lead.
Every game in a playoff series is different, but Game 1 sets the stage for the rest. Here are some notes, numbers and film to get you up for Game 2 on Thursday (8:30 ET, ESPN).
1. The status of Smart
Kyle Lowry (Miami), Al Horford (Boston) and Marcus Smart (Boston) all missed Game 1 on Tuesday. For Game 2, Lowry is listed as out and Horford is doubtful. But Smart is probable to make his series debut.
The Kia Defensive Player of the Year will probably help the Celtics’ defense. The Heat’s 118 points on 97 possessions (121.6 per 100) on Tuesday was Boston’s worst defensive performance of the playoffs. And of the three teams the Celtics have faced, Miami is the one that ranked lowest offensively in the regular season.
Smart’s return to the starting lineup would move Derrick White back to the bench and (likely) result in less playing time for Payton Pritchard, who played 30 minutes on Tuesday. Pritchard got picked on defensively in the fourth quarter of Game 1, when Gabe Vincent set more ball-screens (9) then he had in any full game in his career.
But Pritchard also gave the Celtics some offense on Tuesday. Boston and Miami combined for 145 points on 121 possessions in those 30 minutes. White’s minutes were not nearly as good on the Celtics’ end of the floor and it will be interesting to see which of the two backup guards gets more time in Game 2.
2. Stifled ball movement
The Celtics’ defense did have an impact on the Miami offense.
Through the first two rounds, the Heat ranked fourth in the playoffs in ball movement, averaging 320 passes per 24 minutes of possession, according to Second Spectrum tracking. But their 231 passes (with 21.1 minutes of possession) in Game 1 were 20 fewer than they’ve had in any other game this season.
The Celtics’ defense will do that. They’re (generally) switching ball screens, keeping the Miami offense flat. They’re also trying to deny the Heat’s dribble-handoff actions …
In that play, Jayson Tatum kept Gabe Vincent from being able to take an early handoff from Bam Adebayo. After the initial attempt, Vincent pivoted and began another attempt the other way. But Tatum was ready. Adebayo was then able to hand the ball off to Max Strus, but White was right there and eventually forced a turnover.
“They’re a unique defensive team,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday. “I think we’re going to have to fight for what we do, how we do it, and try to get to that more often than not. But that’s also why you have great players.”
Indeed, one reason the Heat scored efficiently despite the lack of ball movement on Tuesday was the ability of Jimmy Butler to get buckets and get to the free throw line. Tyler Herro was also able to put points on the board with minimal ball movement.
This may be a series where the Heat need Butler and Herro to rescue more possessions than usual with their off-the-dribble offense.
“You get to this time of year,” Spoelstra said, “and you can have all the greatest plans of shifting a defense, moving them and playing out of close-outs. It gets tougher and tougher each round to be able to do that. [The Celtics] are so well-schooled and well-coached and really competitive [with] two-way guys. You got to get whatever you can get. And they’re probably saying the same thing.
“But we would like to try to [play] the way we’ve played all year, have segments of the game where we can get to that. We saw that last night. You’re not going to get to that all the time and I think the balance that we had was appropriate when it wasn’t too much of that.
“You get to too much of that and they’re really good. You just saw the previous two rounds and the kind of offensive talents that they were able to limit. It’s going to take a real collective effort offensively.”
3. Not so switchy
The Celtics actually didn’t switch as much in Game 1 as they usually do. According to Second Spectrum, they switched on only 22 (27%) of 81 Miami ball screens in Game 1. That was the Celtics’ lowest switch rate of the playoffs.
Robert Williams III (returning from a four-game absence) and Daniel Theis were mostly in “drop” coverage, allowing the Heat to step into jumpers or gain advantages on the roll …
The Celtics also dabbled in some “blitz” coverage, but that didn’t work out well, with Dewayne Dedmon getting a dunk, because Jaylen Brown failed to rotate down from the weak side (see Grant Williams’ reaction below) …
The numbers weren’t good for the Celtics no matter what their pick-and-roll coverage was. But the drop numbers (1.35 points per chance) were worse than the switch numbers (1.17). And one of the first things to keep an eye on in Game 2 will be how Williams defends those ball screens on Miami’s first few possessions.
4. Room for improvement
The Heat beat a great team by 11 points on Tuesday, but because they lost the first, second and fourth quarters, they know they can play better in Game 2. The Sixers averaged 34.3 restricted area points per game against Miami in the conference semifinals. The Celtics had almost that many (32) in the first half of Game 1.
And part of the issue was transition defense. The Celtics even got a transition layup after a make on the other end of the floor …
The Heat also got away with some mistakes, like a miscommunication between Butler and P.J. Tucker that led to an open 3 for Brown …
But Miami also had some great moments of half-court defense …
We can probably expect more of the good defense than the bad defense from both teams in Game 2. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Heat’s performance on Tuesday is the most efficient game we get from either team in this series.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.