The Miami Heat took advantage of a short-handed Boston Celtics squad that was missing two starters and that let Jimmy Butler score 41 points in a dominating second-half performance to win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat defeated the Celtics 118-107 and now hold a 1-0 series lead. Oddsmakers opened the Heat as -4 favorites with Game 2 slated for Thursday night.
The Heat are now -130 favorites to win the series, according to DraftKings. The Celtics were installed as the initial favorite, but after dropping Game 1, they’re at +110 odds to rally back. The winner of Game 1 in a conference finals wins the overall series and conference championship 64% of the time with a 79-23 lifetime record.
With history on their side, the Heat saw their 2022 NBA championship futures improve to +295.
Celtics: 3 good quarters, 1 awful 3Q
The Celtics outscored the Heat in three out of four quarters. They built up a 13-point lead in the first half and led by eight at halftime. But, things went off the rails in the third quarter. The Celtics didn’t score a basket in the first six minutes of the third frame while the Heat exploded for a 22-2 run to take a double-digit lead before the Celtics finally scored a field goal. At that point, the damage was done and the Celtics never recovered.
“We won three quarters other than that, but obviously, that one is going to stand out,” said Celtics head coach Ime Udoka. “We semi-bounced back in the fourth and started to play well again, and matched their physicality, but 39-14 on 2-for-15 is tough to overcome.”
The Celtics attempted a last-gasp effort in the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run of their own, but the Heat countered their counterattack and slammed the door on a comeback.
The Celtics were definitely missing starting point guard Marcus Smart and starting center Al Horford. Smart suffered a sprained foot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and the Celtics prepped for the start of the Heat series knowing he could be out. Then, less than three hours prior to tipoff, the Celtics learned that Horford had been placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols due to a positive test.
Robert Williams started, but the Celtics wanted to ease him back in the lineup after he missed four games in the previous series while recovering from a bone bruise.
Jayson Tatum scored 29 points, but shot only 2-for-9 from 3-point range. Jaylen Brown added 22 points. Williams added 18 points, and Payton Pritchard scored 18 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
Jimmy Buckets: 41 points
Jimmy Butler owned Game 1 when he outscored the Celtics in the third quarter 17-14 and inspired a second-half comeback to propel the Heat after they fell behind in the first half. Butler finished the series opener with 41 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three blocked shots. He’s the only player in NBA history to achieve that stat line — 41-9-5-4-3 — in the postseason.
“Jimmy Butler is an elite competitor,” said head coach Erik Spoelstra. “There’s a lot of guys in this league that are playing basketball. He’s competing to win. That’s a totally different thing and he does that as well as anybody in this league.”
“I continued to play basketball the right way,” said Butler. “Shoot the ball when I’m open, attack, hit the open guy. Honestly, it was a team effort.”
Tyler Herro added 18 off the bench despite his 3-point shooting woes. The NBA Sixth Man of the Year shot just 20% from deep, going just 1-for-5. Gabe Vincent scored 17 points as a replacement for starting point guard Kyle Lowry who missed Game 1 with a hamstring injury.
Max Struss scored 11 points and knocked down a huge 3-point shot in the fourth quarter to help squelch a Celtics’ last-gasp surge when the lead was trimmed to nine points.
“Our energy shifted,” said Bam Adebayo. “That was the biggest key.”
Butler and the Heat held on to win by 11 points, but more importantly, they won Game 1 at home to start the series on a positive note.
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