Mistakes are magnified in a loss, but Boston shouldn’t overreact to just one game.
This one is obvious. Sixteen turnovers, including six by Jayson Tatum in the third quarter alone that fueled a 39-14 differential, lead to 17 points. It’s an easy fix that Tatum acknowledged after the game.
Jayson Tatum on Game 1 loss: "It's on me. I have six or seven turnovers. I gotta take care of the ball better, especially in those situations." pic.twitter.com/KnkTsin69G— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 18, 2022
“Obviously, they were down at halftime. They came out hard in the third quarter,” Tatum said after the Heat closed out the third frame on a 9-0 run. “It’s on me. I had six, seven turnovers. I gotta take care of the ball better, especially in those situations where they go on a run like that.”
During a particularly ugly stretch, Tatum gave away three consecutive possessions to live ball turnovers and transition points on the other end. “We got caught up in the physicality and tried to draw fouls rather than making the right read,” head coach Ime Udoka said.
Miami finished 4th in the regular season in defensive efficiency, in part to their physical defense on the perimeter and ability to close out on shooters. On Tuesday night, they were successful in crowding the Celtics whenever they’d make a catch to either shoot or drive. The Heat recorded ten steals in Game 1 and held Boston to 10-of-34 from behind the arc. During the regular season, they gave up the second lowest three-point shooting percentage (behind the Celtics by percentage points) in the NBA.
Udoka seemed confident that his team would be able to clean up their mistakes before Game 2, but there is a distinct difference between how Milwaukee defends and how Miami defends. The Bucks are ginormous in the front court and they’ll dare you to either shoot the three or drive into the paint where they’ve got multiple seven-footers. The Heat, on the other hand, only really play one big surrounded by wings who play up higher into the ball handler. The absences of Marcus Smart and Al Horford as playmakers are huge in that regard — not even as a calming presence in the huddle, but as sure-handed veterans against pressure.
2) Replacing Marcus Smart and Al Horford
“We gotta be more disciplined. Obviously, we wasn’t prepared to be without Al. We definitely wasn’t prepared to be without Al and Smart,” Jaylen Brown said. “It’s not an excuse. We gotta be better. We still had control of the game in the first half. We lost control in the third quarter a little bit. We just gotta be better. We gotta play better on both sides of the ball, more disciplined. We fouled entirely too much and we let the game slip away from us.”
Sure, not having Horford to the league’s health and safety protocols and Smart out with a sprained foot aren’t excuses for Boston’s lackadaiscal play, but it is a grim reality as the conference finals rolls on at an every-other-day pace moving forward.
For the most part, Derrick White filled in admirably as the starting point guard, but he’ll have to be better than just fine. He’s always been an active ball mover, but you often get the sense that White really isn’t looking to score. He shot only four times in Game 1. By contrast, Payton Pritchard scored 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting. It’s not just the shot attempts though. With the Heat switching as much as the Celtics, any crack in the defense needs to be attacked.
Horford being unavailable might have hurt more though. Robert Williams had a successful comeback (18 points, 9 rebounds, and two blocks), serving as a lob threat and back line rim protector. But without Horford creating at the nail, so many of the Celtics possessions stalled out with Tatum and Brown surrounded by multiple defenders. It’s unclear how long Horford will be out, too. While he’s out, the Celtics will need to get more shot creation from the 4. Udoka could choose to use Tatum at the 4 and play ultra small with Grant Williams at center to do so.
3) Jimmy Butler scoring 41 points
No doubt Butler is having a great playoff stretch. Of the remaining teams in the conference finals, he’s leading the league in scoring at 29.8 points per game at a very efficient 53.5% from the field with nearly nine trips to the free throw line a night. In Game 1, Jimmy Jimmy’d, scoring 41 points on just 19 shots and grifting his way to 17-of-18 from the free throw line.
However, cut out the fastbreak layups and some fortunate bounces on some offensive rebounds and Boston defended Butler well. Sure, he might have roasted Payton Pritchard a few times in the mid-range with PP contesting fairly well, but those are shots the Celtics will probably live with. Forty-one points in forty-one points, but Udoka won’t put a large focus on him and give Butler the KD or Giannis treatment.