The Boston Celtics are the latest team to find no answer to Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.
The Heat rallied in the second half and held on to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night at TD Garden. Butler scored 35 points and helped lead the Heat to a big 46-point third quarter performance before securing a 123-116 victory in Boston.
After a tight first quarter, the Celtics finally pulled away after a 20-5 run midway through the second quarter. That briefly gave Boston a 13-point lead, which it had to settle for at halftime with a 9-point advantage. While the Heat shot nearly 54% from the field as a team in the first half, led by Butler’s 15 points, they committed 9 turnovers to the Celtics’ 19 points.
Jayson Tatum also had 18 of his 30 points in the first half, and the Celtics held a huge 40-16 advantage in points scored in the paint. A lot of that came from center Robert Williams, who scored 12 points and didn’t miss a shot from the lane in the first 24 minutes.
The Heat completely turned the game around to start the second half and tied things up almost immediately after opening the third on a 21-12 run while shooting 9-for-13 from the field. This infuriated Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla.
Miami didn’t stop there. The Heat scored 46 points in the third quarter and outscored Boston by 21 in the period, suddenly taking a 12-point lead, its largest of the game. They went 6-of-9 from behind as a team and had just one turnover in that period. It was the highest scoring playoff quarter in Heat history.
Boston cut the game to within 5 points in the first 94 seconds of the fourth quarter and held it there for most of the period, Caleb Martin drilling a wide-open 3-pointer late before Butler followed it up with a wild layup. The bucket sealed a 7-point victory against Malcolm Brockton.
Despite making just 4 shot attempts in the second half and none in the fourth quarter, Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points and 7 rebounds in the loss. Jaylen Brown added 22 points and 9 rebounds, and Brockton finished with 19 points. The Celtics, who narrowly edged the Philadelphia 76ers in their semifinal series after Tatum’s 51-point performance on Sunday, shot just 10-of-29 from the 3-point line as a team Wednesday night.
Butler added 7 assists, 5 rebounds and a playoff-career-high 6 steals in the win for the Heat – who reached the conference finals after a 4-2 victory over the New York Knicks. Bam Adebayo finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds. Miami shot better than 54% from the field as a team and went 16-for-31 from the 3-point line.
The Heat looked pretty solid in their sixth straight Game 1 win. Given where they started the postseason in the play-in tournament, they now have an early advantage in the series that many didn’t expect them to contend with.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for Friday night. With a long way to go in the conference finals, the Celtics don’t want to find themselves in a two-game hole before heading to Miami on Sunday.