“MVP Jimmy did his thing. He got on our backs,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said after the game.
Despite losing two of their starters – Marcus Smart and Al Horford – hours before kickoff, the Celtics kicked off Game 1 strong with a 7-0 run.
In the first half, Boston led up to 13 points and went into the half 62-54 with forward Jayson Tatum tying a playoff career high by scoring in a half as he contributed 21 points.
Then the game changed after halftime.
A minute into the third quarter with the Heat trailing the Celtics by one point, Gabe Vincent’s three-point attempt bounced off the edge. Butler grabbed the offensive rebound and converted a layup, giving Miami the lead for only the second time in the game.
In the third quarter alone, Butler himself beat the entire Celtics 17-14 as Boston conceded eight turnovers and shot 2-for-15 from the field – his worst shooting percentage of any quarter in the last four seasons.
“I kept playing basketball the right way: shooting the ball when I’m open, attacking, hitting the open guy,” Butler told reporters after the game. “Honestly, it was a team effort.”
Although the Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter – beating the Heat within 12 minutes and retreating to nine points with 7:35 to go – the damage had already been done.
“They were down at halftime and came out and played hard in the third quarter,” Tatum told reporters after the game.
“It’s on me, I’ve had six turnovers. I have to take better care of the ball, especially in situations where they make runs like that.”
Tatum had 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Celtics while Jaylen Brown had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Vincent, a backup to six-time NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry at point guard, also played for the Heat and contributed 17 points.
It’s the third time the Celtics and Heat have met in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Miami winning on the previous two occasions.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Thursday in Miami.
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