Written by Joe Vardon, Jay King, Steve Buckley, and Jared Weiss
BOSTON – The Miami Heat are not the eighth seed in the middle. And now they are three wins away from becoming an all-time No. 8.
The Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 123-116 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday behind 35 points from Jimmy Butler and 20 from Bam Adebayo.
Miami is attempting to become the second team in NBA history and the first since the 1999 New York Knicks to reach the Finals as the eighth seed.
“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said when referenced above.
maybe. One game not made by a series. But, then again, the heat is by no means what a typical No. 8 seed looks like.
A year ago at this time, they were the No. 1 seed, locked in what could be a bittersweet seven-game loss to the Celtics themselves. Butler is one of the best playoff players in the Heat’s illustrious history, and former champ Kyle Lowry is now docking the bench in Miami.
This is the third time in the last four seasons that these two teams have met in the Conference Finals, and overall this is Miami’s tenth appearance in a Conference Final.
The Heat has struggled through injury and lineup questions this regular season, but has already knocked out #1 seed Milwaukee in the first round, lost only twice so far in the postseason, and won game one of all three series.
Bottom dweller they are not.
“Everyone who prepares us from the start is building that chip (on our shoulder),” Adebayo said. “Now I feel we are one of the best teams in the league because adversity made us.”
Game 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday at TD Park in Boston.
Butler was on 12 of 25 shooting with seven passes, five boards and six steals. It was his 17th game with at least 30 points since joining the Heat four seasons earlier, and his 11th consecutive game with at least 25 points. Butler is the fifth player in NBA history with 30 points, five rebounds, five assists, and five playoff appearances. He joins Michael Jordan (8), Allen Iverson (3), Russell Westbrook (3) and Rick Barry (2).
Adebayo plays a much different role in this series than in the 2022 Conference Finals. The offense runs through him as the center, and he contributed five assists to go with his eight boards. Adebayo tied LeBron James for the most consecutive playoff games in franchise history with at least eight rebounds (10).
Max Strauss, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and Lowry each scored 15 points for Miami.
The Celtics, who advanced to this stage with a Game 7 76 wins on Sunday, led 66-57 in the first half and were leading the Heat 40-16 in the paint. They coughed up 46 points for Miami in the third quarter.
“I thought the first half was good, and I thought we let the ropes go in the third quarter, and we lost that sense of urgency,” Boston coach Joe Mazzola said. “We were ready, and then we let go of the rope. … We have to be ready when we overtake them, they are going to respond and we have to respond.”
Coming off a game-best 7 in NBA history, Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Jaylen Brown added 22 points and Malcolm Brogdon added 19 off the bench.
One anomaly of the Heat’s season compared to last season was the 3-point shooting. Highest Three Point Shooting Team in the League in 2022 Miami fell significantly lower in that category during the regular season. The Heat found their stroke and, in Game 1, shot 16 of 31 from deep.
The Celtics, who are second in the NBA with 43 3-point attempts per game, were 10 of 29 from outside the arc – that’s where this game was decided.
“I felt like they had a lot of them in the first half,” Spoelstra said. “I felt like they had more, but we know that’s a big part of what they’re doing. We’re trying to take some of those away, but it’s hard.”
the athleteInstant Analysis:
The Celtics, unable to stop Butler, back up the cast
After a long streak with the slow-paced 76ers, the Celtics haven’t adapted well to Miami’s faster offense. Even in the first half, which Boston finished with a nine-point lead, Lowry punished the Celtics early in shooting time several times. Philadelphia often preferred solitude. The Heat made some of that in Game 1, but without any slack. They scored efficiently throughout the first half, then hit Boston with a haymaker in the third quarter 46-25.
The Celtics haven’t taken anything away. They allowed 54.1 percent shooting from the field, including 51.6 percent 3-point shooting. Butler scored 35 points on 12-for-25 shooting and the Celtics couldn’t limit his support team either. They had late chances but squandered them. – king
Third quarter deflates from TD Park
Brown delivered some tack-tsking to Celtics fans going into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, saying they need to bring in more energy. Which they did. But the third quarter of tonight’s game (and Tatum’s turnovers at the end) shows why fans can lose that energy: There’s always a fear that the Celtics will do something wrong, and not just for a play or two. – Buckley
The Celtics had the worst quarter imaginable and somehow they found themselves within striking distance late in this game. Then Tatum threw it away. Tatum then let go of his feet and refrained from shooting him before he came down. Boston was close, but would step on her shoelaces when given a chance to turn things around. The Celtics would use enough physicality on Butler to prevent him from tearing them apart. – Weiss
Can Boston bounce back?
Boston has the talent to win the series, but the Heat showed the difference between a team that wins by three quarters and a team that plays 48 minutes. Miami gives up on crossover games all the time, but the Heat game played connected the entire game and the Miami Stars have a tenacity like no other. The Celtics’ best players seemed unsure at times, which coincided with a complete disappointment in defensive focus and pressure in the third quarter.
The NBA is designed to punish teams that can’t keep up the pace of defense, but the Heat is designed to destroy them. Now the boldest eighth seed we’ve seen is leading the Conference Finals. – Weiss
(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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