Miami had fresh legs coming in. Marcus Smart and Al Horford were out. Even before Horford was a surprise scratch, oddsmakers had the Celtics as slight underdogs in Game 1 after their hard-fought, full-length series against Milwaukee, during which they constantly worked from behind.
Yet somehow, Boston’s 118-107 loss to Miami was surprising.
Jayson Tatum started off hot, but he cooled down big time in the second half. Miami defended Jaylen Brown in a manner that was expected, but that doesn’t excuse his four missed free throws. Then there was Boston’s horrific third quarter.
“Got out-toughed, out-physicaled,” Ime Udoka said about the 39-14 third quarter. “They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to up their physicality and aggression on both ends. I don’t think we responded well on either end of the floor.
“We had eight of our 16 turnovers in that quarter. Played in a crowd on offense. Got sped up. Defensively — offensive rebounds, getting muscled around in the post, some poor fouls got them to the free throw line — it flipped very quickly, and just lost our composure.”
Even with the odd third, the Celtics managed to make it a game late, winning the other three quarters in Tuesday’s loss — that’s the odd part about it. This was not a game the Celtics should have won, but it was still very winnable for them. Fatigue set in, but some of the mistakes made were the result of laziness. Just watch a few Jimmy Butler highlights, and you’ll see how he took advantage of those mistakes.
“That’s what he does,” Brown said when asked about Butler’s ability to disrupt the passing lanes and turn those plays into points. “We knew that going in. … We let him away with too much. Eighteen free throws, that’s way too many.”
For all the frustrations, there was one major positive from Game 1. Robert Williams looked a lot like his pre-surgery self on Tuesday. He blocked shots and disrupted more. Just as importantly, he was actually an alley-oop threat at the rim again, which opens a lot in the paint for Tatum, Brown and Smart.
For those concerned about Williams after his fourth-quarter leg issues, he suffered a leg cramp. Udoka didn’t seem concerned after the game since it wasn’t related to the big man’s knee.
Now that they have Time Lord back and seemingly healthy, it places an even greater emphasis on them taking care of the basketball. Miami can’t get as many easy points in the paint if Williams replicates his Game 1 performance. Never mind getting Smart and Horford back. That takes a lot of pressure off Boston on both ends.
But, that can’t happen if the Celtics are turning the ball over left and right. The Celtics like to beat themselves, and they can’t afford that this series. Boston is the better team, but unlike the Bucks, the Heat will make you pay for making avoidable mistakes. So, as much as this was a game Boston was expected to lose, there are some important adjustments to be made ahead of Thursday.