The Celtics lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat 118-107, in spite of winning 3 of the 4 quarters. But it was the 3rd quarter that cost them the game. The Celtics led 62-54 at the half and played very well in the first half. In the third quarter, the Heat came out playing very physical and being aggressive on both ends of the court while the Celtics started to play tentatively and lost their composure and the result was that the Heat outscored the Celtics 39-14 in the quarter.
The Celtics allowed 118 points, and that isn’t like them as they have been the best defensive team for the second half of the season but, they spent more time turning the ball over and complaining to the refs in the third quarter than they did playing defense. In that 3rd quarter, the Celtics allowed the Heat to shoot 50% from the field while they shot just 13%. The Celtics had 42 points in the paint in the first half but just 6 in the second half.
The Celtics lost Game 1 against the Bucks in the second round also. They bounced back and won Game 2 decisively after that Game 1 loss. The Celtics have been resilient in these playoffs. The Celtics are 3-0 after a loss in these playoffs, winning those 3 games by an average of 14.7 points per game. Two of those games were on the road. Also, in games after a loss, Jayson Tatum is averaging 35 points on 57.5% shooting from the field.
The Celtics were without Marcus Smart who injured his foot in Game 7 of the second round against the Bucks. He had been questionable and was ruled out just before the game. Al Horford was ruled out just hours before the game due to Health and Safety Protocols. Smart is listed as probable for this game and I have included him in the starting lineup. Al Horford was originally listed as doubtful and then upgraded to questionable and is now available. Derrick White is a late scratch for this game due to the birth of his child. The Celtics just can’t catch a break in this series so far.
For the Heat, Kyle Lowry has missed 7 of the last 9 games with a hamstring injury and missed Game 1 on Tuesday. He has been ruled out for this game also. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus are both once again on the injury list with hamstring injuries. However, they have been listed on pretty much every game so far but have played with no restrictions in every game also so I expect them to play in this game. PJ Tucker left Game 1 with an ankle injury but returned to the game and as of now is not listed on the injury list for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Marcus Smart (foot) probable
Al Horford (covid) available
Derrick White (personal) out
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
Kyle Lowry (hamstring) out
Gabe Vincent (hamstring) questionable
Max Strus (hamstring) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
This is definitely the key matchup for this game. Butler is averaging 29.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game in the playoffs. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 22.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. In Game 1, he put up 41 points to go with 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks with only 2 turnovers. Jayson Tatum finished Game 1 with 29 points on 10-21 shooting and just 2-9 from beyond the arc. He also had 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, 1 block and 7 turnovers. The Celtics will need him to be more efficient, especially from three, and not turn the ball over.
Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is averaging 14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game in the playoffs. He averaged 14.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals in the 3 games against the Celtics this season. In Game 1, he had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 4 blocks. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. He is also a mid range threat but not a perimeter threat as he hasn’t attempted a 3 pointer this season.
Payton Pritchard vs Tyler Herro
Herro was voted the Sixth Man of the Year this season for his averages of 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 44.7% shooting from the field and 39.9% shooting from beyond the arc. He struggled a bit in the first two rounds as his averages have dropped to 14,2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in the playoffs so far. He In Game 1, he finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds 3 assists and 1 steal and kept the Heat in the game in the first half until Butler came up big for them in the second half. I had this as White vs Herro at first but with White ruled out for this game, the mantle will fall to Payton Pritchard. Pritchard needs to score to offset his defensive liability.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs. Both of these teams play tough physical defense. In Game 1, the Celtics allowed 118 points, which is out of character for their normal defense. The Celtics must make defense a priority as the Heat will definitely be playing tough defense and the Celtics must match or better their efforts on that end. The Heat have had 5 different leading scorers in their 12 playoff games. The Celtics will need to play tough team defense to try to limit all of the Heat players who are capable of having big games.
Rebound - As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to grab rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of the game as well. In Game 1, the Heat had just 1 more rebound than the Celtics and just one more offensive rebound. But as with everything else in the 3rd quarter, the effort wasn’t there for the Celtics on the boards. The Heat out-rebounded the Celtics 15-6 in the third quarter and 8-4 on the offensive end. The Celtics have to especially limit the Heat’s offensive rebounds in order to limit those extra points. The Celtics can’t afford to allow the Heat to have an advantage on the boards. They must work harder to grab rebounds.
Play 4 Quarters - The Celtics won 3 of the 4 quarters in Game 1, but their 3rd quarter was so bad that it negated all the good things they did in the other 3. The Heat was the best 3rd quarter team over the first 2 rounds of the playoffs, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Celtics that the Heat came out of the locker room in the 3rd quarter, being very aggressive on both ends of the court. The Celtics were 2-15 from the field and 0-7 from beyond the arc in the 3rd quarter. They also turned the ball over 8 times in the quarter. The Celtics simply stopped playing in the third quarter and allowed the Heat to be the more aggressive team. They Celtics have to play hard for all 4 quarters and not allow the Heat to out play them for any stretch in the game.
Stay Focused - The Celtics have to stay focused on playing the right way. They have to focus on making crisp passes and on handling the ball and not turning it over as the Heat are 2nd with 19.7 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy with their passes or ball handling as they did in the third quarter on Tuesday, the Heat will make them pay. They also have to focus on moving the ball and moving without the ball in order to get the best shots and they need to stay focused on making those shots. They can’t lose focus over bad calls or no calls and give the Heat an advantage while they complain to the refs.
Keep Doing What Works - In the first half of Game 1, the Celtics went to the basket and didn’t rely on shooting from the perimeter. They had 42 points in the paint in the first half and then went away from that, with just 6 points in the paint in the second half. The Celtics moved the ball and had 17 assists in the first half but just 5 in the second half. The Celtics were aggressive and played hard in the first half but in the 3rd quarter seemed to stop giving effort and the Heat out played them. In the first half, the Celtics were focused and and played with composure. In the 3rd quarter they turned the ball over and lost their focus and composure and basically fell apart. The Celtics must stay focused, play hard and with heart, get to the basket, and play tough lock down defense from the starting tip until the final buzzer.
Coaching - Once again, coaching will be an x-factor. Ime Udoka is a rookie coach with just 2 playoff series on his resume. He did a great job of coaching in both series but he will be facing some pretty serious competition in Erik Spoelstra who has a 93-61 career playoff record. This is his 6th Eastern Conference Finals appearance and he is 6-0 in those series. Spoelstra made the adjustments at the half in Game 1 and the Heat came out and took over the game in the 3rd quarter. Ime will have to work hard to get an advantage over Spoelstra going into this game and with mid-game adjustments.
Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor in every game and we saw it make a difference in Game 3 against the Bucks with 5 admitted incorrect calls in the last 5 minutes and a 6th that was incorrect but they didn’t admit to it. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. Some favor the home team. Some favor the road team. Some just make bad, head scratching calls. In Game 1, the Heat took 34 free throws, with Jimmy Butler taking 18 of those and the Celtics took 32 free throws. It seemed that every time down the court someone was on the free throw line. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls and no calls take them out of the game or affect their focus. Most of all, the Celtics have to stop complaining after every call instead of getting back on defense.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are two-point underdogs heading into Game 2 against the Miami Heat tonight. With news that both Marcus Smart (probable) and Al Horford will be available after missing Tuesday’s opener, there’s confidence that Boston can bounce back after a disastrous third quarter in Game 2. The Celtics will be without Derrick White who has returned home for the birth of his first child and the Heat’s Kyle Lowry remains out with a hamstring injury.
Considering Miami’s domination in Game is a bit of eye of the beholder. The Heat outscored the Celtics by 25 points in the third quarter, but lost the first, second, and fourth. Jimmy Butler went to the free throw line 18 times and Jayson Tatum coughed up eight turnovers; those performances will most likely not happen again in the conference finals, let alone in the same game.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.