Miami Wins Game One

The two best defensive teams in the NBA took the floor last night in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a tale of two halves. Boston asserted their dominance early and often as they blitzed the Heat right out of the gate. Robert Williams was a menace in the paint. Constantly finishing around the rim with lobs or catches in the paint and put backs over Bam Adebayo from offensive rebounds. Conversely, Williams was protecting the paint and denying access to the rim like an overzealous bouncer at a night club on South Beach. The Celtics were battle tested in the previous round against Milwaukee and were clearly there for a street fight. Jayson Tatum couldn’t miss a shot and the Celtics were outscoring the Heat in the paint by a significant margin. The Heat simply were not ready to match Boston’s fight and physicality early on and found themselves down 13 at home with 5 minutes to go until halftime.

The Heat and Celtics have great respect each other. You can sense that in a lot of the player and coach commentary in the pregame press conferences. The Heat look across towards the team in green and they see a mirror image of themselves and vice versa when the Celtics look across at the all white clad Heat. There isn’t a ton of love between the two squads, after all this is a rivalry series, but the respect is deep and real. Both teams get after it and compete. Both teams defend at a high level and take pride in getting stops. Both teams are led by great coaches from Portland. Both teams are led by a star player who excels in the playoffs. Both teams are filled with dogs who are not going to fold under the pressure of the moment or melt under the heat of the bright lights. Both teams shoot the 3 ball well and guard the 3 point line aggressively by closing space with speed and tenacity.

Miami Wins Game One action

It was a tale of two halves. The Heat were a battered palm tree seemingly stripped of all its coconuts in the first half, but came out with the force of a hurricane after halftime. Erik Spoelstra is a collaborative coach secure in his position and in his own skin. Before he got into his desired adjustments for the 2nd half, Coach Spo allowed his players in leadership positions to take the reigns and drive the conversation at the beginning of the halftime intermission. Kyle Lowry and Udonis Haslem did most of the talking and Jimmy did most of the walking. The run was 22-2 in favor of Miami when the teams took the floor in the 3rd. The differential was +25 (39-14) in a historic 3rd quarter performance where Jimmy Butler himself had more points than all of the Celtics players who touched the court in the 3rd frame combined.

Playoff Jimmy Butler is not a myth. Playoff Jimmy is a legend that we are all witnessing. Jimmy Butler historically has always raised his level of play when the games matter more in the postseason. However, Jimmy Butler is doing things in these playoffs that even LeBron James didn’t do when he was wearing a Heat jersey with the ball and flame logo on it in the early 2010s. Butler is rapidly climbing the all-time Heat playoff records and some of the lists that he is putting his name on only include himself and Dwyane Wade. Tuesday night Butler had a stat line that no other player has had in NBA history. 41 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks while shooting 63% from the field. 41 points on 19 shot attempts? That’s getting it done efficiently. Not to mention Jimmy’s performance directly impacted the win for the Heat. Only Butler and Michael Jeffrey Jordan are averaging the numbers that Butler is averaging in these playoffs while also shooting 50%+ from the field as a perimeter player. Let that sink in.

The Boston Celtics have a talisman of their own that many felt coming into this series would be the best player on the floor. His name is Jayson Tatum. The young rising superstar is not too shabby himself and having a historic playoff run of his own. Tatum had a dominant 21 point first half performance in game one where he was abusing the Heat when they switched pick & rolls by either penetrating and scoring or setting up Robert Williams for alley hoops. It was pick your poison for Miami and the options JT was serving up were all lethal. Tatum is now a unique two way player who was blowing up a lot of the dribble hand off actions that the Heat were trying to run, which forced many turnovers and led to transition buckets for Boston in the first half. However, when the Heat turned up their intensity in the 2nd half, Tatum shot the ball poorly only making 1 shot in 7 attempts, and had almost as many turnovers as he had points in the 2nd half. I fully expect Tatum to respond with a better 4 quarter performance in game 2.

We also have to give some flowers to the “others” who were stars in their roles in game 1. Tyler Herro was a spark for the Heat off the bench when the Heat truly needed a lifeline in the first half. It felt like Boston was imposing their will and were on their way towards running away with it in the first half before the 6th man of the year came in the game and changed the calculus. Boston showed Herro a lot of drop coverage on defense and he quickly made them pay by burying his first shot from 3 and by making mid-range floaters and getting to the free throw line. Gabe Vincent is not a natural point guard, but he had his best game attacking the pick & roll that I have ever seen him have, not to mention his suffocating defense.

Payton Pritchard and Jaylen Brown carried the Celtics offense for stretches when the Heat defense was singularly focused on minimizing Tatum’s impact on the game. There was a moment towards the end of the game where Udoka was getting ready to take out all of the starters and Pritchard hit a big 3 from the suburbs of Miami which put Heat fans on edge. Grant Williams did not have a good game after getting kicked in the face by Bam, but like he told Coach Udoka on the sidelines, he is ready to “move on” to game two.

A situation to watch moving forward will be the availability of Marcus Smart and Kyle Lowry over the next few days. A sprained foot and a strained hamstring can be nagging injuries, especially for these guys as point guards of their respective teams. Also, it seems that Al Horford has tested positive for COVID-19 and as a result of being fully vaccinated could miss a minimum of 5 days away from the team. The fact that Boston has had several traveling staff members who have also tested positive recently and due to the unknown (likely unvaccinated) status of Jaylen Brown, Boston will have to be prudent in making sure that Jaylen Brown does not enter the health and safety protocols as well.

Game one was a fun one to watch as we got to witness high level coaching, high level team defense, and individual defensive plays from both squads. The Heat had a franchise best 12 blocks but Boston was right behind them with 8 of their own. Some of the athletic chase down blocks made by Bam Adebayo and Robert Williams were simply breath taking. Theis had a fingertip block right at the rim against a Dwayne Dedmon dunk attempt that was slightly reminiscent of the famous Tatum versus Bam block in the bubble. These are two evenly matched teams and this is evidenced by the nearly identical statistics both teams had in game one. Boston was 11 of 34 from behind the arc, Miami was 10 of 30. Miami had 24 fouls compared to Boston’s 23 and both teams took 32+ free throws while also creating a bunch of momentum swinging steals. Neither of these teams know what it means to quit and this one feels like it’s going to be an epic and long series. Bring on game two.

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