You would have thought the Miami Heat’s 22-2 run to start the third quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was two years long, given the public reaction to the opening of the series.
Popular opinion understood those six minutes for an overtime in the 2020 Conference Finals as if the Celtics were the same team the Heat bullied into the bubble. As if they hadn’t swept Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets and knocked out Giannis Antetokounmpo’s defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7. As if they weren’t lacking Marcus Smart and Al Horford, muscle and the brains behind the best defense in the NBA.
Even Heat star Jimmy Butler said after Game 1, “I expect us to do this from now on,” as if Celtics counterparts Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown would once again forget how. play basketball.
Only Smart and Horford returned to stifle the Heat defensively, Tatum and Brown rediscovered their stardom, and Boston reminded everyone not to make sweeping assumptions after a bad quarterback in Game 1 of a series at best of seven, dominating Miami for all four quarters. of a 127-102 win in Game 2.
“It wasn’t surprising how well we kept our guys back,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
The Celtics turned an early 10-point deficit on Thursday into an 11-point lead late in the first quarter. They pushed the margin to 70-45 at halftime and led up to 34 points in the second half. Miami’s starters didn’t see the field in the fourth quarter, favoring the rest for a third game on the road in 48 overtime hours.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth, and we didn’t know how to react,” Miami’s Bam Adebayo said.
Lost was Butler’s discussion as “one of the five best players in the NBA as of the start of the playoffs“, even though he finished the night with 29 points, the bulk of which came with the result already settled. No one was singing Butler’s praises when he shot 29.7% and the Bucks swept his Heat in the first round last season.His 41 points and 17 free throws in Tuesday’s opener were as remarkable as they were unsustainable.
Nowhere was heard of Adebayo’s stranglehold on the Celtics, stemming from his game-winning block of Tatum in Game 1 of the 2020 Eastern Finals and resurfacing with his wedgie block of Brown in the third quarter. of Game 1 of this series. . Boston got everything it wanted offensively in Game 2. Tatum and Brown combined 51 points on 30 shooting to lead six Celtics in double figures on a 51% shooting night.
Things change from year to year, game to game, even quarter to quarter in the NBA.
The Celtics have now edged the Heat by 34 points outside of six minutes to start the third quarter of Game 1. They’re scoring 121.2 points per 100 possessions against Miami in two games, and their healthy defense has left us wondering how the Heat could manufacture points beyond Butler’s aggression.
“It was obvious after Game 1, that third quarter, 39-14, eight of our 16 turnovers, them getting a lot of offensive rebounds and Butler getting to the free throw line,” Udoka said of the response. of his team in Game 2. “It was pretty obvious that they were the more physical and aggressive team, and we said, ‘Let’s look at three quarters and be optimistic about what we did there- low. If a team is just going to come out and shove you…we could match that intensity. We pride ourselves on being one of the toughest teams out there so we knew if we did the same we would be in good shape tonight. Not much to say. Everyone has seen it.
We have to be careful not to make snap judgments the other way after Game 2. The series is still tied, and while Boston stole home-court advantage on Thursday, Miami would host Game 7 if the series goes. as far.
In total through two games, the Celtics have looked like the best team in the NBA for six months now. Their healthy rotation lost once in the second half of the regular season — by just one possession — and Derrick White missed Game 2 in Miami for the birth of his first child. They have outscored opponents by 13.5 points per 100 possessions since Jan. 6. The gap between their best defense and Miami’s second team is the difference between the Heat and the 16th defense.
“That’s what our team is all about,” Horford said. “We’ve been talking about it since January when we really started to get into it and kind of create that identity and the way we wanted to play. That’s who we were.”
We know for sure that the Celtics are tougher than they were two years ago. They are now 4-0 after their playoff losses, winning those games by a combined 69 points. They held Durant 13% below his regular-season shooting percentage in the first round and Antetokounmpo 10% below his in the second. It’s hard to imagine Butler sustaining his 63% clip over two games, and if he does, it might not be enough.
“There are really good players and really talented teams in the NBA, but I think the sign of a good team is how you react after losses, especially the tough ones,” Tatum said. “It kind of shows the character of the group. We’ve done a really good job most of the year responding after losses and difficult situations.”
Health that seemed to be an issue for the Celtics in Game 1, when Smart was nursing a sprained foot and Horford was stuck in COVID-19 protocols, is now a serious issue for the Heat. Kyle Lowry’s hamstring sidelined him for eight playoff games, and PJ Tucker left Thursday’s loss with a knee injury.
Concerns about the Heat’s entry into the conference finals — Tyler Herro’s defense and the ability of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin to perform on that stage — persist as the series heads to Boston. They’ll need a lot more of Butler’s supporting cast if they’re to avoid going back to Miami 3-1.
Again, be wary of deciding a streak after a blowout, whether in a quarter or a game.
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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach