The Miami Heat pulled out a 118-107 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the 2022 Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night. It was a tale of two halves for the Heat, who came alive in the third quarter to storm back from an eight-point halftime deficit and proceed to dominate the Celtics for the remainder of the game. Jimmy Butler put up 41 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the win, while Tyler Herro added 18 points off the bench for the Heat.
Miami turned up the pressure on defense in the second half, and made life difficult for Jayson Tatum and Boston. Tatum finished the game with 29 points (21 in the first half), while Jaylen Brown added 24 points. Boston certainly missed Marcus Smart (out with a foot injury) and Al Horford (out in COVID health and safety protocols) on both ends of the floor, and while Horford could miss Game 2 in the league’s protocols, there’s optimism Smart could return for Game 2 from that right foot sprain.
Here are three takeaways from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Celtics.
1. Jimmy got buckets
Butler was unstoppable for the entirety of this game, but he really came alive in the second half where he put up 27 of his 41 points on the night. He did a lot of his damage at the free-throw line, where he racked up 17 points, as he excelled at baiting several defenders with his pump fake to get a foul call. But it wasn’t just Butler’s scoring that made a difference for the Heat, he was getting it done with his playmaking, rebounding and perhaps most importantly his defense.
Butler ended the game with four steals, three of which came in the third quarter. There was a point in that quarter where Butler came away with back-to-back steals that led to easy fast-break buckets, widening Miami’s lead and leaving the Celtics shellshocked after putting together a sterling first-half performance. Butler also finished with three blocks, the last one of which felt like a statement, as he stuffed Tatum on a corner 3-point attempt in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
On the possession prior to that, Butler sank a mid-range jumper over Celtics guard Payton Pritchard while staring him down while running back on defense, as if to say “you can’t guard me.” Butler’s right, Pritchard, and everyone else Boston tried to stick on him couldn’t contain him and it resulted in an explosive performance from the Heat forward, who now has scored 40 or more points three times in these playoffs.
2. Boston collapsed in the third quarter
Things really fell apart for the Celtics in the third quarter, as they got outscored 39-14 out of halftime after leading by eight points after 24 minutes. Boston was dominating the game through two quarters, as Tatum worked up to 21 first-half points, the Celtics generated 42 points in the paint, and racked up 17 assists, showing great ball movement to start the game. But all of that first-half success flew out the window, and not only did the Heat close the gap in the third quarter, they completely steamrolled them and worked up a 20-point lead.
Credit Miami’s defense, as the Heat suffocated Tatum and shut down Boston’s offense practically as soon as it got past half court, but some of it also had to do with mental mistakes from the Celtics. Tatum racked up six turnovers in the third quarter, as he went away from what worked for him through the first half and started to rely on foul hunting to get his points. It resulted in just five points from the superstar forward, who struggled to find his shot again after a hot start to the game.
But the blame can’t be entirely placed on Tatum’s shoulders for that third-quarter performance. For three quarters of the game Brown was essentially a non-factor, and while he finished the night with 24 points, most of that production came in the fourth quarter when the Heat were already comfortably ahead.
The Celtics can’t afford to have Brown come alive when the game is practically out of reach, especially when the team is down two starters in Smart and Horford. While Brown put up 15 fourth-quarter points to help stage a comeback attempt, it was too little too late for his heroics. Boston needed that production in the third quarter when Tatum was getting swarmed and no one else could generate points. If Brown had a bigger third quarter than just the two points and 0 for 4 from the field that he produced, perhaps Boston doesn’t dig itself into a 20-point deficit and it would’ve had a real shot at the end of the game.
Please check the opt-in box to acknowledge that you would like to subscribe.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
3. Vincent stepped up in Lowry’s absence
One of the major storylines for the Heat heading into Game 1 was how this team would handle playing against a defense like the Celtics without their starting point guard in Kyle Lowry, who is dealing with a hamstring injury. While Miami had gone 6-0 in the previous games that Lowry sat in the playoffs, the team had yet faced an opponent as dominant and versatile as the Celtics.
Well clearly that wasn’t a huge concern, as Gabe Vincent put together an impressive performance and finished the game with 17 points, three assists, three blocks and two rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep. His third-quarter performance was one of the reasons the Heat managed to work up such a big lead, as he put up 10 points while playing all 12 minutes in the third quarter.
It isn’t entirely surprising to see Vincent make an impact for the Heat, given he showed some flashes of this in the second round against the 76ers, but I imagine not many predicted that he would be the second-leading scorer among the starters for the Heat tonight. It’s unclear when Lowry will be back for the Heat in this series, but in the meantime, Vincent has shown that he can fill in for him when needed.