The Miami Heat swept the Indiana Pacers, shocked the Milwaukee Bucks and, in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals, stormed back against the Boston Celtics. Miami started the series on the wrong end of an 8-0 run and trailed by as many as 13 points in the first quarter, looking thoroughly discombobulated on offense. It hung around, though, and in the end, escaped with a 117-114 victory in overtime after a clutch play from Jimmy Butler and an incredible block by Bam Adebayo.
Butler attacked the basket against Jayson Tatum and scored over his outstretched arms, earning a foul in the process and giving Miami a two-point lead with 12 seconds left. On the next possession, Tatum drove against Butler and went for a dunk, but Adebayo met him at the rim and swatted the ball away. Tatum then missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
With 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Butler hit a corner 3 to give the Heat a one-point lead, but, after a timeout, Derrick Jones Jr. committed an ill-advised foul off the ball before the Celtics had inbounded it. In overtime, Kemba Walker hit a stepback jumper with 23.2 seconds left before Butler and Adebayo saved the day for Miami.
Butler finished with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting, but the Heat’s most important offensive player for much of the night was Goran Dragic, who had 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting. Miami outscored Boston 35-35 in the final frame and 11-8 in overtime.
Tatum scored 30 points on 10-for-24 shooting and Marcus Smart added 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting, but Walker shot 6-for-19 for his 19 points. Miami tried to take Walker out of rhythm with a combination of a 2-3 zone, trapping and switching. This time, it worked well enough.
Here are three takeaways:
1. Whatever it takes
One of Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s pet phrases is “whatever it takes.” He loves to talk about how playoff competition tests you and forces you to respond when things don’t go your way. That’s why I imagine that this will be his favorite win of the Heat’s playoff run. Miami was stuck in the mud early on, dealing with a defense that functions completely differently from Milwaukee’s. It stumbled again offensively after halftime but stuck with it.
If you are sick of hearing about “Heat culture” and how much these players believe in themselves, I completely understand. But they have bought into all of that stuff, and no team makes a comeback like this without a certain degree of self-assurance. Early in the second quarter, Dragic was the lone Miami player who was making anything happen, but down the stretch, just about everybody on the floor made important contributions.
Once again, Jae Crowder punished the opponent just about every time he was left open behind the arc. The forward finished with 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 5-for-9 from deep. Tyler Herro made a pair of 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter, too, and the game-winning plays from Butler and Adebayo were a combination of smarts, strength and sheer force of will.
In his post-game Zoom conference, Spoelstra pointed out that Adebayo wasn’t even in a good offensive flow, but found a way to put his fingerprints on the game anyway.
“That can be a poster dunk,” Spoelstra said. “And a lot of people won’t be willing, aren’t willing to make that play and put themselves out there when Jayson Tatum is getting to the launching pad. He just made a big-time save for us. Tatum did have an angle, and it looked like he had an open lane to the rim. And sometimes, when you have great competition like this, you just have to make plays that you can’t even really explain.”
2. This Dragic stuff is not new
In the regular season, Goran Dragic averaged 16.2 points on 57.3 percent true shooting, with 5.1 assists and 3.2 rebounds. He played 28.2 minutes a game as the Heat’s sixth man, but, per minute, he was as productive as he was when he made the All-NBA Third Team in 2013-14 with the Phoenix Suns.
In the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs, Dragic averaged 21.1 points on 56.2 percent true shooting, plus 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 34.7 minutes. It may have felt like Dragic has reached another level lately, but really he has essentially maintained his level of play in a bigger role. Rather than having him run the show when Butler goes to the bench, Spoelstra has made defenses account for him, Butler and Adebayo at the same time from the opening tip, making each of them much more dangerous.
In the second quarter on Tuesday, Dragic scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, keeping the Heat afloat when the Celtics were firmly in control of the game. This bought Miami a bit of time and allowed the team to settle down.
“It was really important because we couldn’t get anything going,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s a big-time credit to their defense. They got us out of our normal rhythm. It wasn’t about us; that’s what they do. And Goran was able to shake free a few times and put some points on the board that just kind of gave us a little bit more confidence in that second quarter.”
It wasn’t nearly as memorable or spectacular as the plays Butler and Adebayo made, but with three and a half minutes left in overtime, Dragic drew a foul on Boston big man Daniel Theis under the basket. The Heat hadn’t scored yet in the extra frame, and the Celtics were up by four after a stepback jumper from Walker. Dragic not only killed Boston’s momentum, but he also fouled Theis out of the game.
“A lot of the general fans out there don’t realize what a competitor he is and has been his entire career,” Spoelstra said. “And I’m talking about in the States but also overseas. Winning the [FIBA European] championship two summers ago, you need guys that know what it’s like, how difficult it is, and particularly when we have young players that we’re relying on, you need veteran, experienced winners that can kind of settle you. And that’s who Goran is.”
3. The Celtics’ offense has come back to life
This will probably get lost because of the way the game ended, but, after seven rock fights against the Toronto Raptors, Boston found some offensive rhythm. The Celtics scored 116.5 points per 100 possessions in this loss, per Cleaning The Glass, which is better than they managed in any game in the second round and better than their regular-season mark. That is no small feat against a Heat team that has been phenomenal defensively throughout the playoffs.
Boston was blessed with some hot shooting from Smart, but the more meaningful development was the return of Tatum’s sidestep 3-pointers. He shot 4-for-12 from deep, and the most significant number there is 12 — unlike the series against Toronto, in which he was often hounded by smaller guards, Tatum was able to create space against Miami defenders with relative ease.
The Celtics have some stuff to figure out, mainly in terms of how they want to deal with the 2-3 zone and Adebayo’s switches against Walker. In a general sense, though, their offense looked healthy, and if Gordon Hayward is back for Game 2 on Thursday, everything should be a bit easier.
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Huge, huge comeback victory for Miami.
I thought Tatum’s desperation buzzer-beater might be going in, but nope.
What a play by Bam.
2.5 seconds left, and the Heat have all but won this game. Amazing.
Incredible defensive play.
Tatum vs. Butler this time, drives and gets blocked by Bam Adebayo at the rim!
12 seconds left.