MIAMI — The Boston Celtics exited their locker room at halftime Tuesday night and controlled Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
But then the third quarter happened. And after the Miami Heat demolished the Celtics, beating them 39-14 and using their physicality to send Boston into a death spiral of misses and unforced errors, the Heat were on course to a 118-107 win to win the opening game this best-of-seven affair.
“More than anything, thinking about getting stops, getting into open ground, getting to the free-throw line, all those good things shows us what we’re capable of,” said Jimmy Butler, who led the way for Miami led with his most recent spectacular performance in the playoffs, which he finished with a game-high 41 points – including 17 in the crucial third quarter – nine rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes.
“It just reminds me that we can do it. I see it on this piece of paper. I lived it So I expect we’ll do that every quarter from now on.”
That’s a high bar to live up to. Miami bludgeoned Boston into submission in the third to the point where the Celtics not only played their worst 12 minutes of this playoffs to date — but one of the worst quarters Boston has had, period.
“[We] were overwhelmed and physically overwhelmed,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to ramp up their physicality and aggression on both ends and they did.”
You certainly did.
Here’s a sampling of the disastrous stats unearthed this quarter:
The Celtics shot from the field 2-for-15 in the quarter, their worst shooting quarter in the last four seasons, in either the regular season or the playoffs.
After Boston went 15-28 on contested shots in the first half, the Celtics went just 1-12 against them in the third half.
The 7 minutes and 7 seconds it took Boston to score its first third-quarter basket was Boston’s longest drought to start a quarter without a field goal all season.
The last time Boston went at least 7 minutes to score in a quarter was Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Pistons. The bottom line of this game? It was 66-64 in favor of Boston.
Jayson Tatum had six turnovers in the third quarter alone and Boston as a team had eight — the same number as the other three quarters combined. The Heat also scored 12 of their 19 points from Boston Turnovers in that third.
All of this was enough to add up to leave Miami 1-0 up in this series despite losing in the first, second and fourth quarters.
“The boys were just really disappointed at half-time,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “I hardly had to say anything. Everyone was just disappointed with our defensive performance and our focus. But look, we’re playing against a very good side. So we’re not just saying that, hey, we have to do that.” better. They put a lot of pressure on our defense and that’s what you expect when you get to that level.”
The Heat had to have that kind of reversal after Boston controlled the first half with relative ease. After a seven-game slugfest with the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks — a streak Boston ended with vigor on their home court in Game 7 — the Celtics looked to carry that momentum into the first half of that game. The Celtics led 62-54 in the first half, led by Tatum by 21 points. They shot 59% from the field.
In that first half, Tatum had 16 color points — the most he’s had in a half in his career — as Boston colorized Miami 42-24.
But just as Tatum’s play was symbolic of Boston’s strong first half, his appalling third quarter was symbolic of Boston’s absolute collapse after the break. Tatum scored two points on 1-on-7 shooting in the second half, on top of those six disastrous turnovers in the third quarter. Miami hit three straight pick-6 turnovers that turned into layups or dunks that blew up the game as part of a 22-2 run to start the second half that finally gave the Heat the lead.
“I think obviously I don’t want to flip the frigging ball and s— like this,” Tatum said. “But I think over the course of a game things happen and they keep going. They did.
“Throughout the playoffs we did a great job responding to runs after a call timeout and things like that. But for some reason we didn’t do that today. I’ll be the first to say I take the blame for this. I need to lead better. I have to play better, especially in these moments. I’m just looking forward to reacting in the next game.
Boston will hope to respond in Game 2 with Marcus Smart in the lineup. Smart gave the team a rousing speech on the bench to try and turn things around after that ugly third quarter, but that was all he could do as he sat out with a right metatarsal sprain.
Not only was Boston missing Smart, who was questionable about playing all day, but also without Al Horford, who was surprisingly added to the NBA’s health and safety protocols a few hours before tipoff and who likely won’t return until at least game 3
“We need to be more disciplined,” said Jaylen Brown. “Obviously we weren’t ready to be without Al. We definitely weren’t ready to be without Al and Smart. That’s not an excuse, we have to get better.
“We still had control of the game in the first half. We lost control in the third quarter. We just have to get better. We need to play better on both sides of the ball, more discipline. and we let the game slip away from us. That’s the story.”
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.