The Miami Heat outlasted the Boston Celtics in a memorable Game 1 battle on Tuesday evening. With the win, Erik Spoelstra’s team slides into the driver’s seat against the slightly favored Celtics, while Boston is left to nurse its wounds in advance of a pivotal Game 2 on Thursday.
To that end, here are three key takeaways from the opener as the series progresses.
1. This is going to be a fun, long series
Game 1 was truly a back-and-forth affair in every sense of the word. The Celtics opened with a 12-3 start and, in the early going, Boston was firing on all cylinders.
Jayson Tatum had it going, hunting mismatches and letting it fly with impunity.
Boston led by as many as 13 in the opening period but, after a 17-4 run by Miami midway through the second quarter, a highly competitive contest began to take shape.
The Heat used a 30-12 overall run to take a six-point lead and, fittingly, Boston returned the favor by knotting the game at the halftime break. From there, the Celtics zoomed again, using a 9-0 run capped by a Marcus Smart three-pointer in transition to take a 65-61 lead in the third quarter.
Later in the third, Boston enjoyed another run, outscoring the Heat by a 13-2 margin to close the period and taking a 12-point lead to the fourth.
From there, though, it was all Miami. The Heat made their first push to slash the lead to four, including Bam Adebayo finishing with a flourish.
That proved pivotal in allowing Miami to stay in touch and, in short, the Heat saved their best for the big moments in this spot. First, Butler delivered a three-pointer for the lead with 22 seconds remaining in regulation.
After an away-from-the-ball foul on the inbounds, the Celtics tied the game on a free throw from Tatum and they retained possession with a chance to win it. Boston strung together a broken possession, however, with Tatum forced to launch an ill-advised shot that allowed the Heat to survive and force overtime.
In the extra frame, it was push-and-pull again, with the Celtics leading early and Miami delivering another 7-0 run. Kemba Walker knocked down a step-back jumper for the lead with 23.2 seconds left, but it was Butler that answered on a three-point play that ultimately proved to be the game-winner.
Finally, Adebayo sealed the game with a one-in-a-million block on Tatum that will go down on his highlight reel when his career ends some day.
Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo is the first player to block a potential game-tying or go-ahead dunk in the final minute of a playoff game since the advent of play-by-play in 1996-97. @ESPNStatsInfo
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) September 16, 2020
This was a game that had virtually everything, and the entertainment value was off the charts. Both teams have adjustments to make, and they have top-flight coaches to make them. Both teams also have star power and talent all over the floor. Miami owns a 1-0 lead, but this looks to be a (very) long series.
2. Kemba Walker must be better for the Celtics
To begin positively, Walker came up big in the overtime period, converting a pair of wildly important jumpers with the game in the balance.
Before that, though, it was an adventure for the All-Star point guard, and Boston just needs more. The Heat provide opportunities for Walker to cook in this series, deploying a small handful of perimeter players that don’t qualify as elite defenders. However, Walker finished the night just 6-for-19 from the floor and 1-for-9 from three and, given his defensive challenges as a small guard, that kind of shaky production is hard to overcome.
On the bright side, the Celtics nearly won this game twice without much from Walker, and that is probably a good sign for Boston moving forward in the series. Still, Boston needed some genuine heroics from Brad Wanamaker to make that a reality and, for as much as Walker’s struggles aren’t sustainable, neither is Wanamaker playing at this level.
Great timing on this help from Wanamaker for the steal and then a layup on the other end. On the flip side weird angle to set the double stagger, it allowed the Celtics clog the lane without leaving anyone pic.twitter.com/PLFfqKXd6p
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) September 16, 2020
Wanamaker, who was on the floor defensively in place of Walker in crunch time, finished with 11 points, six assists, and five steals. He should be lauded for his effort and, throughout the postseason, the veteran guard has given Boston a nice jolt. Still, Walker has to be the star-level player that he has been in the past in order to pave the way for a Celtics victory, particularly if Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro continue to shine for Miami. Hey, on that note…
3. Have a game, Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro
The Heat are led by Butler and Adebayo. That is indisputably true, as both players are genuine stars. In this game, that was still the case in many ways, with Butler producing the biggest bucket of the night on the way to a trademark 20-5-5 performance and Adebayo saving the game with a clutch block in the midst of an 18-point, nine-rebound, six-assist evening. With that out of the way, this was really the night of Dragic and Herro for Miami.
Dragic led the Heat with 29 points (on 11-for-19 shooting) and he added seven rebounds and four assists for good measure.
Herro “only” scored 12 points, but he contributed 11 (!) rebounds and nine assists while knocking one of the bigger shots of the evening when Miami was teetering at the end of regulation.
Oh, and the rookie guard delivered a memorable, on-point bounce pass in overtime that drew a lot of attention.
Dragic has been fantastic in the postseason, recapturing his All-Star form and occupying a notably larger role for the Heat. That comes at a perfect time for Miami, as he can take pressure off Butler as a primary creator while giving the Heat more juice off the dribble, attacking the rim and finding shooters when needed.
As for Herro, he has been a spark plug throughout the season, spacing the floor as a more-than-effective shooter and doing a lot of little things. This was an outlier in terms of his rebounding and assist totals, but Herro made several winning plays in this one. Furthermore, it was crucial that the Heat got something from their supporting perimeter players and, on a night when Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn didn’t provide all that much, Miami needed everything they could get from Herro.
Moving forward, the Heat can rely on Butler and Adebayo to be stars and, at this point, it would be surprising if Dragic tailed off given the way he’s playing. If Miami continues to get this kind of production from at least two of their non-stars, however, they could build off an already solid starting point of a 1-0 series lead.