The Boston Celtics were outscored 39-14 in the third quarter, leading to their inevitable 118-107 Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat.
The disappointing, shocking third quarter led to Marcus Smart laying into his teammates. Smart missed Game 1 due to a right mid-foot sprain he suffered during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy used the break going into the fourth quarter to ignite the fire within his teammates, reportedly pounding his chest and challenging his teammates to give more.
“Just have heart,” Smart said, according to Payton Pritchard.
“He was just telling us to compete, get after it,” Pritchard added. “We were kind of playing soft there for a little bit.”
This isn’t the first time Boston has suffered similar losses due to disastrous quarters. The Celtics lost the ECF to the Heat in the Orlando Bubble because they weren’t physical enough, poised enough, or together enough to work through what Miami was putting the Celtics through. The 25-point deficit Miami created ranks as the second-worst quarter in Celtics playoff history.
According to Coach Ime Udoka, Boston spoke about how Miami would look to ramp up their physicality to impose their will after the break. Despite knowing that Boston still failed to meet the moment and matched Miami’s intensity. One play illustrates just how much more intense and powerful Miami was in Game 1.
On the first possession of the second half, Jimmy Butler (41 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, three blocks) caught the ball in the paint, spun through four Celtics defenders, and drew a foul. The next time the Heat touched the ball, P.J. Tucker missed a corner 3-pointer, but Bam Adebayo (10 points, four boards, four blocks) crashed the glass hard enough to force Grant Williams to foul him.
Had Williams not fouled Adebayon, the play could’ve resulted in a Butler bucket after he beat Jaylen Brown to a rebound anyway.
“Got out-toughed, out-physicaled,” Udoka said. “They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to up their physicality and aggression on both ends, and they did that. I don’t think we obviously responded well on either end of the floor. We had eight of our 16 turnovers in that quarter, played in the crowd on offense, and got sped up. And then defensively, offensive rebounds, getting muscled around in the post. Some poor fouls got them to the free-throw line. (The game) flipped very quickly, and (we) just lost our composure.”
The destructive third-quarter outing was punctuated by the Celtics not scoring a field goal for the first seven minutes of the second half. Not to mention Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for all eight of Boston’s third-quarter turnovers. In fact, Boston finished the third frame with as many turnovers (eight) as buckets (two).
The moment is here now for Boston to learn from the failures of the 2020 ECF and Game 1 of the 2022 ECF. Boston lost in six games two seasons ago despite outscoring Miami by one point. However, they lost because they didn’t respond when it mattered the most, allowing the Heat to go on big runs during the fourth quarter.
“Throughout the course of the playoffs, we’ve done a great job of responding to runs after calling timeout, things like that,” Tatum said. “But for whatever reason, we didn’t today. I’ll be the first one to say I’ll take the blame for that. I’ve got to lead better. I’ve got to play better, especially in those moments.”
Maybe Boston’s Game 1 was due to coming off an emotionally challenging seven-game series against the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics had just one day off between ending their second-round series and beginning the Eastern Conference Finals. Missing Smart and Al Horford (virus protocols) certainly didn’t help either. Regardless, Boston can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes of 2020.
The revenge tour Boston has been on since the 2022 playoffs began has gone well so far; in order for that to happen, the Celtics will have to respond to the Heat’s intensity and physicality and play with a next-man-up mentality until Smart and Horford return., Tatum and Brown need to cut down on turnovers and to respond better to the rough play of the Heat when the two stars have the ball in their hands.