If it wasn’t already evident by their remarkable run through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Miami Heat showed why this Eastern Conference Finals matchup will be no cakewalk for the second-seeded Boston Celtics. Written off as an underachieving eight-seed — and even losing their first play-in game — the Heat improved their record to 9-3 this postseason with a 123-116 win in Game 1. The Celtics have been put on notice: this is not a series they can afford to take lightly.
Jayson Tatum led the way with 30 points, but found himself outdueled by perhaps the top star of the playoffs to this point, Jimmy Butler, who scored 35 points, dished seven assists and swiped six steals. Jaylen Brown had an effective, if quiet, night, posting a 22-9-5 stat line, while Robert Williams III continued his recent resurgence with a loud 14 points and seven rebounds (four offensive). Marcus Smart recorded a double-double, dishing 10 assists in the first half, but finished with 13 points and 11 assists for the game as his usage seemed to diminish in the second half.
A white-knuckle first quarter illustrated the challenge ahead of the Celtics this series. In the early going, Miami looked more like the hot-shooting team that downed the Milwaukee Bucks than the leaden offense that out-scrapped the New York Knicks. The Heat shot 52% from the field in the first quarter, led by a sterling start from Butler, who carried the momentum of his strong postseason with a 12-point frame. The Celtics didn’t buckle, however; a balanced offensive attack led by — mercifully — a strong start from Tatum gave them a two-point lead entering the second, 30-28.
The early minutes of the second quarter belonged to Lowry. The 37-year-old guard connected on consecutive threes early in the quarter, and tacked on a third a few minutes later en route to 11 second quarter points. Their momentum quickly slowed, however. The Celtics kept their heads down and maintained an excellence offensive process, dissecting the Miami defense and building energy as the quarter wore on. A 15-3 Boston run built up a double-digit lead, and the lead sat at nine entering the halftime break, 66-57.
too tough pic.twitter.com/87eWqbjmgl— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 18, 2023
Starting for the third consecutive game, Robert Williams III may have been the story of the first half. The Celtics have looked rejuvenated with last season’s starting lineup back in place, and it’s no coincidence that a lively Williams has been key to that resurgence. Williams dominated the Heat on the glass, grabbing four offensive boards in the first half and scoring 12 points.
Rob is everywhere pic.twitter.com/EY0LpIYdA4— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 18, 2023
A brilliant game for Smart continued in the opening moments of the second half, as the point guard recorded his 11th assist of the night less than one minute into the third quarter on an alley oop feed to Williams III. Four minutes later, though, Miami was back in the lead; they found a hot streak, outscoring the Celtics 19-9 to claim a one-point advantage. The surge continued from there, driven by a strong attack in the paint and multiple mental lapses from the Celtics, including an ill-fated save attempt under the basket from Williams III that led to an easy Heat layup. Miami scored a staggering 46 third-quarter points, outscoring the Celtics by 21 in the frame and compiling an 12-point lead entering the fourth, 103-91.
Knocked on their heels in the third quarter, the Celtics began to dig themselves out of their hole early in the fourth. They rattled off a quick 7-0 run in the early minutes to draw back within five, prompting a Spoelstra timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Brown hit the floor while battling for a loose ball and appeared to injure his left arm, clutching it in evident pain. He stayed in the game and drew an and-one layup on the next Boston possession, hitting the floor and seeming to suffer no ill effects. It was later reported that Brown was bleeding profusely from his hand, and the Celtics’ training staff was able to stop the bleeding during a timeout midway through the quarter.
Boston’s modest run brought the game back to a competitive range, but the Heat had the answers to keep them from completing the comeback. The Celtics seemed strangely reticent to give Tatum the basketball, going away from him repeatedly throughout the quarter and using him as an auxiliary piece instead of a primary scorer down the stretch. They never managed to cut the lead within one possession, and came away with a 1-0 deficit in the series.
Next up, the series rolls forward with Game 2 in Boston, this Friday at 8:30 PM EST on TNT.