Defense was the key to analyzing the Eastern Conference final between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. It wasn’t unique in itself, but the NBA has two very good defenses, the Hit and the Celtics, and although both teams have players who can beat even the toughest opponents, which team did you think the series would take further? Successfully locked up another. Hit coach Eric Spoelstra even said before Tuesday’s Game 1 that he expected a “throwback” series where neither team would score 130 points. The forecast was, and remains, a slugfest.
Throughout the first half of Game 1, though, that spoilstra quote seemed particularly silly. His team was completely shattered by the ability to enter Boston’s paint, and the Slagfest was like a shootout. In the first 24 minutes, the Celtics scored 42 points on paint, the second highest playoff total since the NBA began tracking status a quarter of a century ago. Miami was fortunate to be able to enter the bottom half of the barrage just eight, and if the hit goes to avoid a 1-0 deficit and loss of home court facilities, something needs to change quickly. The Hit are the best third-quarter team in the playoffs so far, but they need a stronger dose of dominance after half-time to get back into the game. Thanks to their defense, they got it, and pulled away for a 118-107 win.
Miami made it 22-2 to start the second half with Boston holding their breath at every level. The Celtics shot for just 2-15 in the third, their worst shooting performance in a quarter in the last four years. Even more amazing was the fact that Boston turned the ball eight times in that 12-minute period, which was equal to the combined turnover of the rest of their game. Jayson Tatum, so deadly in the first half, was responsible for six of them, capitalizing on some of the worst players in the Miami Celtics’ grossly lazy and ineffectively wrong game. The hit was 12 points away from Boston’s turnover, which was at the top with a back-to-back theft for Breakway Dunk:
The highlight of the third for Miami’s defense came halfway through, as the left Adebayo chased Jelene Brown’s lay-up with a quiet first half jerk on that end of the floor and pinned it directly between the backboard and the rim.
It was for a game in Miami’s Season-High and Play-Off-Record 12 blocks, where Adebayo four, Jimmy Butler three and six-foot-three underaft guard Gabe Vincent added three of his own. Adebayo’s block was a symbol of the shift that happened in half. Where the Celtics got what they wanted in the paint in the first half, Miami effectively pushed the boundary out of the half. The hit forced Boston to give up 12 competitive shots in the quarter. They made one.
Although Boston was worse off in the fourth quarter, dropping the lead several times to single digits after coming out of the third down 17, a steady combination of Butler’s free throws — 18 of 17 was a 41-point effort for that game — and Vincent, Victor Oladipo and Some big shots from role players like Max Strauss comfortably put the hit ahead for most of the final frame. With Boston missing two key players from Marcus Smart (usually sprained right ankle, and usually crabmatted) and Al Harford (COVID protocol), it would be hard for either team to lose the kind of all-around game Miami played in the second half. .
It is something that can replicate heat; As mentioned earlier, they are the best third-quarter team in the playoffs so far, and their offense is probably a bit better than it showed on Tuesday. To get back to Boston, they will first and foremost need a smart back on the floor, and in the form he has shown throughout this playoff. It’s hard to believe that the Celtics would have played with such laziness and discomfort in the third if their green haired Hardus Point guard had been with them.
But the Celtics could not rely on Smart to fix all their illnesses on Tuesday. They also need to find out how they can create a more open look than they did in Game 1. Even in that impressive first half, Boston were helped by a competitive shot with one of 28 of 15 shots, and the team received a much bigger offensive boost than expected from returning Robert Williams. The hyperactive big man has scored 18 points and played some incredible defenses of his own after missing the injured knee in the last four games of the box series. He left the floor stylishly in the fourth, which is more worrying for Boston in the long run than in the third-quarter fall.
Playoff series are slippery and ever-changing, and there’s no reason to overreact to a Game 1 where the home team looks completely incomparable before the script is completely reversed. If Boston was going to lose a game in this fashion, the first could probably lose; With the exception of two of the team’s top five or more players, an 11-point loss from their field-friendly boundary is almost right. But if the Celtics deal with this loss with the extra confidence shown in the third quarter, they can expect very similar results. The hit, for their part, is what they do. Perhaps it will be harder for these two teams to score as they find each other out, but for the most crucial 12 minutes of Game 1, it looks like the hit learning is ahead of the curve. If the Celtics don’t understand how to cope, this series will be smaller than anyone expected.