The Boston Celtics are the latest team to find an answer to Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.
The Heat, who initially looked weak Wednesday night against TD Garden, bounced back in the second half to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Butler scored 35 points and led the Heat to a 46-point streak in the third quarter before a 123-116 win over Boston.
After a close first quarter, the Celtics finally burst into the second quarter with a big 20-5 run midway through the second quarter. This temporarily gave Boston a 13-point lead, but they were tied by nine points at halftime. The Heat shot nearly 54 percent of field goals as a team in the first half, trailing Butler by 15 points, but nine turnovers allowed the Celtics to score 19 points.
Jayson Tatum also scored 18 of 30 points in the first half, giving the Celtics a 40-16 lead in scoring in the paint. Most of it came from center Robert Williams, who scored 12 points in the first 24 minutes without missing a shot from the lane.
The Heat completely turned the game upside down at the start of the second half, tying the score almost instantly after going 9-of-13 from the field to take the third lead with a 21-12 run. This infuriated Celtics manager Joe Mazura.
Miami didn’t stop there. The Heat scored 46 points in the third quarter, beating Boston by 21 during the period and suddenly taking the biggest 12-point lead of the game. As a team, they went 6-of-9 from behind the arc and had just one turnover in that period. It was the highest-scoring playoff quarter in Heat history.
Boston closed the game to five points in the first 94 seconds of the fourth quarter and held it there for most of the game, but it was Caleb Martin who scored a wide-open 3-point shot in the closing minutes before Butler’s wild shot. Followed. Defeated Malcolm Brogdon by bucket to score a 7-point win.
Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points and seven rebounds in the loss, but made only four attempts in the second half and failed to hit a single in the fourth quarter. Jaylen Brown had 22 points and nine rebounds while Brogdon came off the bench to score 19 points. The Celtics edged past the Philadelphia 76ers in the semifinal series on Sunday with Tatum’s 51-point performance, but the team made just 10-of-29 from the 3-point line Wednesday night.
Butler had seven assists, five rebounds and a playoff career-high six steals to help the Heat beat the New York Knicks 4-2 to reach the conference finals. Bam Adebayo had 20 points and eight rebounds. As a team, Miami had a slightly better field goal percentage of 54 percent, making 16-of-31 from the 3-point line.
The Heat looked very strong with a six-game winning streak in Game 1. They now hold an early advantage in a series many didn’t expect to face, especially considering their postseason starting point for play-in tournaments.
The second game of the series is scheduled for Friday night. They still have a long way to go to the conference finals, but the Celtics don’t want to enter a two-game hall before they have to travel to Miami on Sunday.