BOSTON — For the third time in these playoffs, the Miami Heat have won Game 1 on the road. On Wednesday, they came back from a 13-point deficit to steal home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals from the Boston Celtics with a 123-116 victory.
Jimmy Butler led the way once again, filling the box score with 35 points, five rebounds, seven assists and six steals. He was, simply, awesome. And having a star on your team like that certainly makes it easier to deal with a double-digit deficit.
“You know, there’s just a settling effect that is impossible to quantify,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “Like, all right, we are in striking distance. Let’s just settle into our game, and Jimmy will make a bunch of plays, Bam [Adebayo] will make a bunch of plays, and everybody will be all right and everybody will just fit into their roles. But what’s that the great players do.”
The Miami offense went beyond Butler. Five of the other six Heat players who logged at least 10 minutes also scored at least 15 points, as the team registered its most efficient offensive performance (123 points on 97 possessions) since Game 1 of the first round.
The Celtics were more efficient than that in the first half, but couldn’t get stops in the third quarter and couldn’t stop turning the ball over in the fourth.
“I thought we just let go of the rope in the third quarter,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said, “lost that sense of urgency.”
Here are some notes, quotes, numbers and film from a game that dropped the Celtics (who were 32-9 at the TD Garden in the regular season) to just 4-4 at home in the postseason.
1. Outside game
In the regular season, the Heat ranked 20th in mid-range field goal percentage (40.8%) and 27th in 3-point percentage (34.4%). Those numbers were up through the first two rounds of the playoffs, but the Heat hit another level on Wednesday.
Miami shot 10-for-15 (67%) from mid-range and 16-for-31 (52%) from 3-point range in Game 1. Their effective field goal percentage of 73.9% on shots from outside the paint was their third-highest mark of the season in 96 total games.
Butler was the man from mid-range, shooting 6-for-9 from between the paint and the 3-point line. But he was just one of six Heat players who made at least two 3-pointers and one of four Heat players who had at least two assists on 3-pointers.
The Celtics can be pretty confident that their opponent won’t shoot that well from the outside again. But this was not just a lucky shooting night from the Heat. And the Celtics had some defensive issues, particularly in the first 12 minutes after halftime.
2. Third quarter of doom
Boston won three of the four quarters in Game 1. But they lost the third by 21 points, allowing the Heat to score an amazing 46 points on just 25 possessions, the second most efficient quarter for any team in these playoffs. And those 46 included almost half (18) of the Heat’s 40 points in the paint.
A couple of those nine buckets in the paint came off live-ball turnovers, including what would have been a beautiful dime from Robert Williams III to Kevin Love if they played for the same team. The Celtics were slow to get back against an incredible outlet pass from Love. They also got beat to the glass.
And on the Heat’s final possession of the period, Malcolm Brogdon somehow chose to guard Cody Zeller at the 3-point line instead of Max Strus:
3. Rolling below the switch
While the Heat shot ridiculously well from the outside, the Celtics dominated the paint. They scored 40 of their 62 points in the paint in the first half, when they had some success rolling below the switch.
Miami was switching more ball screens than they did in their conference semifinals series against New York. That should flatten the Celtics’ offense out, but Boston was able to get into the paint by having the screener quickly roll to the rim below the initial ball defender.
Late in the second quarter, Marcus Smart set a ball screen for Jaylen Brown along the left sideline. Strus switched it, but Caleb Martin stayed with the ball. Smart rolled into the paint, drew weak-side help, and kicked the ball out to Al Horford for an in-rhythm corner 3:
A few possessions later, Brown set a ball screen for Smart and rolled below the switch. The Heat had to rotate and Jayson Tatum was able to attack Gabe Vincent off the dribble. And on the Celtics’ last possession of the half, Smart hit Williams with a lob after Adebayo switched a screen and Williams got below the other defender (Strus):
After giving up 40 points in the paint in the first half, the Heat held the Celtics to just 22 in the second half, in part because they did a better job of getting between the roll man and the rim when they switched screens:
4. The open man
Martin is going to get some shots in this series. These are the playoffs, when more attention gets paid to the stars and more open shots are available for the role players. And in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, a couple of open shots were available for Martin.
With the Heat up five and about four minutes left, Vincent collapsed the defense with a baseline drive. He kicked the ball out to the right corner, where Martin had a great look that was off the mark, part of a five-possession scoring drought for Miami.
That drought was ended by what was probably the biggest shot of the night. And that shot was from Martin in the same exact spot. He was being guarded by Smart, who left him to double Butler in the paint. Butler found the open man and Martin drained the shot:
Martin isn’t a pure shooter. Sometimes, he’ll run himself off an open 3 and try to attack the basket. He had an incredible reverse finish late in the second quarter watching Smart (weirdly) fly by him at the 3-point line. But there was no hesitation on that one with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth.
“I knew I was shooting that one,” he said afterward, “because I missed the one before, but I knew why I missed it. I knew they were going to [leave him open] again. I knew the ball was going to come back. So I had my mind already made up.”
The Heat play a lot of close games, where every possession and every shot matters. Martin was on the floor down the stretch in place of Kevin Love on Wednesday, taking 11 shots in his 30 minutes.
“You got to be ready to knock those shots down,” he said. “That’s what the playoffs are about, for guys to step up. When your moment comes, you take advantage of it. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to overcome those moments and continue to thrive in those moments.”
5. Celtics go big again
A big reason the Celtics came back from a 3-2 deficit in the conference semis was a lineup change: Williams starting instead of Derrick White in Games 6 and 7. This is a very different series, but Mazzulla stuck with the double-bigs look for Game 1.
It didn’t work. The starting lineup was outscored by 10 points in nearly nine minutes on the floor. And like the Heat, the Celtics had a reserve — Brogdon instead of Williams — on the floor down the stretch.
The Celtics weren’t able to come all the way back from what was a 12-point deficit at the start of the period, in part because they committed four turnovers on one critical stretch of five possessions. But the Brogdon lineup was a plus-11 in its 12.0 minutes, and the Celtics looked crisper offensively when they played four guards/wings with just one big.
We’ll see if Mazzulla goes back to smaller look in Game 2 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The Celtics have been in this spot before. They lost Game 1 of the conference semifinals at home to Philadelphia. And exactly one year ago, they lost Game 1 of the conference finals to this same opponent. They won both of those series in seven games.
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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