The Boston Celtics managed for a time to overcome the absence of starters Marcus Smart and Al Horford.
That time expired after one half.
The Miami Heat stormed out of halftime, took over with their defense-into-offense philosophy and held off the Celtics for a 118-107 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night.
Trailing 62-54 at halftime, Miami outscored Boston 39-14 in the third quarter, taking a 93-76 lead into the final frame.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 41 points, and Jayson Tatum had 29 for the Celtics. Game 2 is Thursday in Miami (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
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Here are five key takeaways from Game 1:
Disastrous third quarter for Celtics
There are many ways to look at the game-deciding third quarter, starting with Butler outscoring the Celtics 17-14.
Miami opened the quarter with a 22-2 run, and Boston didn’t make its first field goal until 4:53 remaining in the quarter.
The Celtics were just 2-for-15 from the field, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers, in the quarter. They committed eight turnovers and were lackadaisical with the basketball. After a Celtics timeout following a Max Strus steal and dunk, Butler stole two Tatum passes leading to four Butler points. The ball movement that led to 17 assists on 26 made buckets in first half evaporated in the third.
The Heat had six of their 10 steals and five of their 12 blocks in the third.
Butler: No flash, all substance
Butler just does the work offensively and defensively. He scored his 41 points on just 19 shots from the field and went 17-for-18 from the free throw line. His pump fake is on every scouting report, yet defenders fall for it over and over, sending Butler to the line.
Butler, who had 27 points in the second half, also had nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. It was the second-highest scoring performance of his playoff career.
With Butler on the court, Miami outscored Boston by 25 points.
Mixed results for Tatum, Brown
There are some skilled offensive players left in the playoffs, and only Luka Doncic may be better than Tatum on the offensive end. Tatum might be the best two-way player.
He had quite a three-game run, scoring 46 points to help Boston avoid elimination in Game 6 against Milwaukee, then had 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a Game 7 victory, and finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals in Game 1 against Miami.
Tatum had 21 points in the first half but just eight in a quiet second half. And he had six of his seven turnovers in that bad third quarter and was 2-for-9 on 3s.
Jaylen Brown scored 24 points and was 4-for-8 on 3s but started the game 3-for-12 from the field.
Herro, Vincent, Strus provide strong guard play
Heat guard Tyler Herro showed why he won Sixth Man of the Year this season. Off the bench, he had 18 points, including 15 in the first half. He also had eight rebounds and three assists.
Gabe Vincent had 17 points, three assists and three blocks, and Strus had 11 points and two steals.
The Heat were once again without veteran guard Kyle Lowry (strained left hamstring) but are 7-0 in games he has missed in the playoffs.
No Smart, no Horford for Celtics
Just hours before Game 1, the Celtics announced forward-center Al Horford entered the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and was out for the series opener.
On Monday, the Celtics listed guard and Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart as questionable with a mid-right foot sprain, and by late Tuesday afternoon he was ruled out.
“The soreness was too much, still some swelling, and limited basketball movements that he couldn’t do,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “It was a possibility that he reacted well to treatment today and got better in these hours, but it wasn’t enough.”
As for Horford’s possible return, Udoka said, “It’s more of a medical question, honestly. But there are different protocols and tests that have to be passed, and we’ll know going forward, but it’s not a definite that he’s out for two games.”
Robert Williams and Derrick White started in their place. Williams had 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
Quote of the night
Miami’s P.J. Tucker rolled his ankle midway through the second quarter and headed to the locker room. He didn’t play the remainder of the half but logged almost 21 minutes in the second half. When asked what kind of medical attention he needed, Tucker said, “There’s a genie back there. Took one of my wishes.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.