5 takeaways from the Heat’s Game 1 win over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals

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Miami held a clinic in the 3rd quarter to fuel their 118-107 win over Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Finals.

• Heat-Celtics: Full Series Coverage

MIAMI – Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a points game. But the two biggest runs came from the Miami Heat…and they both came in the third quarter.

The Heat beat the Boston Celtics, 39-14, in the third, turning an eight-point halftime deficit into a 17-point lead and ultimately an 11-point victory that gave the Series #1 a 1-0 playoff lead. Jimmy Butler led the way with 41 points and is now averaging 33.8 points on 56% shooting over his last five games.

Here are some notes, numbers and footage from the Heat’s 118-107 win on Tuesday.


1. Third trimester of misfortune

The Heat were the best third-quarter team through the first two rounds, outpacing the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers by 27.2 points on 100 possessions through 11 third quarters. And Tuesday’s was, by far, their best third quarter yet. In fact, their 25-point differential in the third is tied for the best differential for any team in any quarterback in these playoffs.

That kind of dominance obviously comes with success at both ends of the court, and the third was the Heat’s sixth most effective offensive quarterback in the playoffs. But the most resounding streak was a four-game save streak, penned by Butler and Bam Adebayo.

Adebayo started, first denying the ball to Jaylen Brown and eventually forcing him to catch it 35 feet from the basket with just eight seconds left on the shot clock…

Brown then isolated himself against Adebayo and managed to turn the corner, only for Adebayo to turn his layup into a wedgie…

Block Bam Adebayo

“He had a step,” Adebayo later said, “but I don’t like giving up games.”

On the next possession, Jayson Tatum took turns isolating Adebayo. But he couldn’t get around it, and Max Strus dug in, took the ball and got himself a quick break…

Max Strus fly and dunk

After a Boston timeout, it was Butler’s turn. With Adebayo changing a Robert Williams III screen for Tatum and PJ Tucker quickly going under Williams’ roll to the basket (allowing everyone to stay home), Butler read Tatum’s cross pass to Brown…

Jimmy Butler Stealing

The next possession was different only in that no screen was installed. Butler again read Tatum like a book, letting Brown steal a pass from Williams at the top post…

Jimmy Butler Stealing

(By the way, those are three pretty brutal and game-changing turnovers for Tatum.)

“[Heat coach Erik Spoelstra] don’t like when I do,” Butler said of his defensive bets. “Fortunately, I was two for two on those particular passing lanes. But I don’t understand them all the time, and then you see him peek over there.

But those last three defensive saves were doubly important, as they led to easy transition buckets. Both teams scored relatively effectively on Tuesday, but they are both excellent defensive teams and transition opportunities are key.

“That’s what fueled us,” Adebayo said of that defensive stretch. “That’s what drove our juices forward. And you know, games like that can change a game. You see a guy doing a crazy block like that and you know the energy is going through the crowd. The rim just becomes an ocean when you start running in transition.

Miami has now won the third quarter in 11 of its 12 games, and in the other (game 5 against Atlanta) they were outscored by a single point. Cumulatively, they have a plus-93 in 144 minutes in the third quarter, with no other team doing better than a plus-62 in the playoffs overall.


2. Jimmy Butler on the line…again and again

Butler had a lot more than those two transition baskets and he went 12 for 17 from inside the arc. But it’s only 24 points. The other 17 came at the free-throw line, where he missed just one of his 18 attempts.

Among 178 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in the regular season, Butler had the fourth-highest free throw rate (54.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field). The only players with higher rates – Rudy Gobert, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid – are giants. Butler isn’t like those other guys, but he knows how to draw (and underline) a foul.

Some of it is just bully ball relentlessness…

Jimmy Butler victim of a fault

Part of that is getting a sense of the defender…

Jimmy Butler victim of a fault

And some of it is just art…

Jimmy Butler victim of a fault

Despite Tuesday’s 18 attempts, Butler’s playoff free throw rate (44.2 per 100 shots from the field) is down from the regular season. But he shoots better from the field and it looks like he’s only just getting started with faulty drawing.

“I like the physical,” he said. “Like, I want to meet people and see who goes down first, who’s going to stop first. I think that’s the style of basketball that I like to play. And so do they. And you know, I was 0- for-2 out of three tonight. I want to go 0 for 0 next game because I just want to keep beating people up.


3. Celtics shorthanded

The Celtics were without Marcus Smart (who suffered a sprained foot in Game 7 against Milwaukee) and Al Horford (who entered health and safety protocols hours before Game 1) on Tuesday. This forced coach Ime Udoka to bring in Aaron Nesmith for his first playoff rotation minutes.

Nesmith was 0-for-3 in Game 1, but he had three pretty incredible blocks, a super-athletic offensive rebound (which led to second-chance points) and an active hand deflection which led to a quick break from Boston.

The biggest impact of the two absences was on Payton Pritchard’s minutes. Game 1 was only the eighth time in 155 career games that Pritchard played at least 30 minutes, and he finished with 18 points (shooting 4 for 11 from 3-point range), five rebounds and four assists.

Turnarounds and poor decisions in the 3rd quarter paved the way for Boston’s loss.

But those 30 minutes included the 12 of the fourth quarter, when the Heat made Pritchard the target of their attack. The 10 ball screens Gabe Vincent put up on Tuesday were the most he’s ever put up in his career, according to Second Spectrum’s tracking. Nine of those 10s came in the fourth quarter, when the Heat tried to put Pritchard in action involving Butler.

The funniest of those moves was Butler going straight from a Vincent screen (with Pritchard covering and collecting) to a transfer for Strus…

Max Strus 3 point

The Celtics scored 31 points on their first 18 possessions of the fourth quarter. But that wasn’t enough, as they entered the period 17 points behind and because the Heat themselves scored quite effectively for much of that fourth.

And if Smart can’t play in Game 2 on Thursday, Vincent could be the Heat’s best screener.


4. The sixth man arrives

The Celtics’ defense was initially stifling, holding the Heat scoreless on their first five possessions and just six points off their first 11.

“You have to get used to it,” Spoelstra said. “This is different. Every level you go, you’re going to get a higher level. The four teams that are still there are committed defensive teams. You’re not just going to go down and perform a single action and get a shot wide open. You’re going to have to do things really carefully.

But Tyler Herro, Kia’s sixth man of the year, helped the Heat find their offense. He checked in after a timeout with 6:58 left in the first and immediately dumped a pull-up 3 when Williams failed to get level with Adebayo’s screen.

Herro had seven points and three assists (including a perfectly placed dime for Butler in transition) over the final seven minutes of the first quarter, finishing with 18 points (and those same three assists).

Assuming they are in better health, the Celtics will be able to defend at a high level for most of this series. And sometimes the Heat will need Butler and Herro to manufacture an offense out of thin air. Game 1 was definitely a good start in that regard.


5. The Heat locker room genius

The Celtics weren’t the only shorthanded team on Tuesday. The Heat were without Kyle Lowry (hamstring) and then saw PJ Tucker twist his ankle in the second quarter.

Tucker returned to the locker room and remained there for the rest of the period. But he was not going to miss the second half.

“The moment I walked into the locker room,” Spoelstra said, “he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Don’t even think about it, I’m playing in the second half.

PJ Tucker jokingly credited a “genius” for helping him play through injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Finals.

Tucker’s injury will still be one to watch, but it gave rise to this fabulous exchange during his press conference…

Q: Can you describe to us what happened in the second trimester? Was it your ankle?

Tucker: “I rolled my ankle.”

Q: Did you know you would be back or where did you—

Tucker: “Always come back.”

Q: What happened in the locker room?

Tucker: “There is a genius there. Took one of my wishes.

He has two left, and Game 2 is Thursday (8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN).

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John Schuhmann is a senior statistics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.



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