The Miami Heat never stopped grinding through 53 minutes of hard-fought basketball, long enough for their two All-Stars to steal victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Celtics.
Miami erased a 13-point deficit in the first quarter and dug out of a 14-point hole in the fourth, ultimately snagging a 106-105 lead on All-Star forward Jimmy Butler’s three-pointer with 22 seconds left in regulation. Boston sent the game to overtime with a single free throw, and Butler responded with another three-point play in the clutch — this time traditionally — to finally put the Heat up for good in a thrilling 117-114 victory.
“That’s my job to help us win games,” a resilient Butler told ESPN’s Malika Andrews in his postgame interview. “At any point in time, but definitely in the fourth, definitely in overtime. I’m telling my teammates, my coaches, this organization, they have a lot of faith in me, so I try to come through as often as I can.”
Butler’s layup plus the foul with 12 seconds left in overtime gave Miami a 116-114 lead, and Bam Adebayo blocked Celtics star Jayson Tatum’s game-tying layup attempt at the other end. Forced to foul, Boston sent Adebayo to the line, where the All-Star center sank one of two free throws. The Celtics had one more shot to even the score when Marcus Smart’s inbounds pass found Tatum at the three-point line, but Tatum’s off-balance turnaround rimmed out, sealing Boston’s frustrating fate. The two teams play Game 2 on Thursday.
Kemba Walker’s step-back jumper 35 seconds into the fourth quarter gave Boston an 85-71 lead, but Miami chipped away, thanks to a handful of early fouls that put the Heat in the bonus with more than seven minutes left in regulation. Another Walker jumper kept the Celtics ahead, 105-100, with 1:09 remaining.
The Heat responded with back-to-back threes from rookie sharpshooter Tyler Herro and Butler to take its first lead since midway through the third quarter. Boston’s Marcus Smart drew a foul prior to the ensuing inbounds pass, resulting in a Tatum free throw and possession. Tatum missed a potential game-winning pull-up three over Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. as the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked off the clock.
The Celtics took another two-possession lead early in overtime, but an Adebayo dunk capped a 7-0 response to give the Heat a 113-110 lead. A Jaylen Brown tip-in and another Walker step-back swung the score back in Boston’s favor, but Butler muscled a drive through Tatum for the hoop and the harm. Tatum tried to answer, but Adebayo met him at the rim for a game-saving block, a fitting end to a defensive grind.
“It’s the playoffs,” Adebayo told reporters afterward, “and I made a great play.”
Goran Dragic’s 29 points, seven rebounds and four assists led the Heat. Butler finished with 20 points, five boards and five assists. Adebayo registered 18 points, nine dimes and six rebounds. Jae Crowder added 22 points, including five threes, the last of which drew Miami within one midway through the overtime period.
Tatum led all scorers with 30 points, to go along with 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Smart added 26 points on 6-of-13 shooting from distance. Walker finished with 19 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there, as he struggled to score against Miami’s multiple looks defensively for much of the night.
The Celtics will hope a better shooting performance from Walker can help even the series on Thursday, and the possible return of Gordon Hayward (ankle) could swing it their way, but they squandered an opportunity to win Game 1 despite those shortcomings. But the confident Heat, who have lost just once in the playoffs, should only be more emboldened by their ability to overcome double-digit deficits with their relentlessness.
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