MIAMI — The Boston Celtics left their locker room at halftime Tuesday night controlling Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
But then the third quarter came. And, after the Miami Heat demolished the Celtics, outscoring them 39-14 and using their physicality to send Boston into a deadly spiral of errors and unforced errors, the Heat were on their way to a 118-107 win to clinch the opener of this best-of-seven affair.
“More than anything, it just shows us what we’re capable of whenever we care about stopping, getting into open ground, getting to the free-throw line, all those good things,” Jimmy said. Butler, who paved the way in Miami. with his last spectacular performance in these playoffs, finishing with a game-high 41 points – including 17 in that decisive 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’ve been through it. So I expect us to do this every quarter from now on.”
It’s a high bar to reach. Miami forced Boston to submit in the third to the point where the Celtics not only played their worst 12 minutes in this postseason so far — but one of the worst quarterbacks Boston has had, period.
“[We] “They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to increase their physicality and aggression on both sides, and they did.”
They certainly did.
Here is a sample of the disastrous statistics collected by this quarter:
The Celtics shot 2 for 15 from the field in the quarter, their worst shooting quarterback in the past four seasons, either in the regular season or in the playoffs.
After Boston went 15 for 28 on contested shots in the first half, the Celtics went just 1 for 12 on them in the third.
The 7 minutes and 7 seconds it took Boston to score their first field goal of the third quarter was Boston’s longest drought to start a quarter without a field goal all season.
The last time Boston took at least 7 minutes to score in a quarter was Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Pistons. The final score of this match? It was 66-64, in favor of Boston.
Jayson Tatum had six turnovers in the third quarter alone, and Boston had eight as a team — as many as in the other three quarters combined. The Heat also scored 12 of their 19 points on Boston turnovers in that third period.
All of that was enough to add to the fact that, despite losing the first, second and fourth quarters, Miami found themselves 1-0 in this series.
“Guys were really disappointed at halftime,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I hardly needed to say anything. Everyone was just disappointed with our defensive effort and our focus. But look, they’re a really good team we’re playing against. So it’s not just us saying, hey, we have to. They put a lot of pressure on our defense, and that’s what you expect when you get to that level.
The Heat needed that kind of upset after Boston controlled the first half with relative ease. After a seven-game tussle with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks — a streak that Boston emphatically closed on their home turf in Game 7 — the Celtics seemed to build on that momentum in the first half of this game. The Celtics took a 62-54 first-half lead, led by 21 points from Tatum. They shot 59% from the field.
In that first half, Tatum had 16 paint points — tied for the most he’s had in any half in his career — as Boston edged Miami 42-24 in the paint.
But just as Tatum’s play was emblematic of Boston’s strong first half, his gruesome third quarter was a symbol of Boston’s absolute collapse after the break. Tatum scored two runs on 1-for-7 shooting in the second half, on top of those six disastrous turnovers in the third quarter. Miami got three straight turnovers at Pick 6, it turned into layups or dunks that opened the game as part of a 22-2 run to start the second half that gave the lead to the Heat for good.
“I obviously think I don’t want to flip that fucking ball and s — like that,” Tatum said. “But I guess throughout a game things happen and they keep running. That’s what they did.
“Throughout the playoffs we did a great job responding to runs after calling time out, things like that. But for some reason we didn’t do that today. I’ll be the first to say I’m going to take I have to manage better I have to play better, especially in these moments I just can’t wait to respond in the next game.
Boston hopes to respond in Game 2 with Marcus Smart in the lineup. Smart gave the team a rousing speech from the bench to try to turn things around after that lousy third quarter, but that was all he could do as he sat with a sprain in the middle of the right foot.
Not only was Boston missing Smart, who had been questionable all day playing, but it was also without Al Horford, who was a surprise entrant into NBA health and safety protocols hours before the whistleblowing, and who won’t. will probably return only at least game 3.
“We have to be even more disciplined,” said Jaylen Brown. “Obviously we weren’t ready to be without Al. We certainly weren’t ready to be without Al and Smart. That’s no excuse, we have to be better.
“We still had control of the game in the first half. We lost control in the third quarter. We just have to be better. We have to play better on both sides of the ball, more discipline. and we let the game get away from us. That’s the story.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.