BOSTON — The Miami Heat still have not trailed in a series during this year’s playoffs.
Just like the first two rounds, the eighth-seeded Heat immediately stole home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference finals with a 123-116 win over the second-seeded Boston Celtics in Game 1 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Heat now holds a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series and is three wins away from becoming just the No. 8 seed in league history to advance to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics led by as many as 13 points in the first half and entered halftime ahead by nine points, but the Heat took control by exploding for 46 points in the third quarter. It marked the most points the Heat has scored in any playoff quarter in franchise history.
Miami won the third period 46-25 to turn a nine-point halftime deficit into a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
But the Celtics didn’t go away, opening the fourth quarter with seven unanswered points to cut the deficit to five. And Boston kept pushing to pull within four points with 2:31 to play.
That’s the closest the Celtics would get, as Caleb Martin hit a corner three off an assist from Jimmy Butler on the other end to push the Heat’s lead to seven with 2:10 remaining.
After Celtics star Jayson Tatum was called for traveling on back-to-back possessions, Butler sealed the victory with a three-pointer of his own to put the Heat ahead by 10 with 1:03 left.
The Heat’s leading duo of Bam Adebayo and Butler did what they were supposed to do and led the way.
Adebayo finished with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, eight rebounds and five assists.
Butler closed with a game-high 35 points on 12-of-25 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 shooting from the foul line, to go with five rebounds, seven assists and six steals.
The Heat and Celtics played a competitive first half that included 15 lead changes and 12 ties, but Miami took control of the game with a huge third quarter and never let go.
After Celtics outscored the Heat 40-16 in the paint in the first half, Miami flipped the script and outscored Boston 24-22 in the paint in the second half.
Game 2 of the series is Friday in Boston.
Five takeaways from the Heat’s Game 1 win over the Celtics on Wednesday:
The Heat’s incredible shot-making won Game 1.
The Heat finished with 122 points on a scorching 54.1% shooting from the field and 16 of 31 (51.6%) shooting from three-point range.
The third quarter was especially eye-opening, as the Heat totaled 46 points on 17-of-26 (65.4%) shooting from the field, 6-of-9 (66.7%) shooting from three-point range and 6-of-8 (75%) shooting from the foul line. Miami committed just one turnover in the period.
This was an impressive performance against the Celtics, which closed the regular season with the NBA’s second-best defensive rating.
Meanwhile, the Heat finished the regular-season with the 25th-ranked offensive rating.
But it was the Heat’s offense that dominated the battle against the Celtics’ defense on Wednesday.
More good news for the Heat: Butler looked healthier than he did at the end of the second round and was the best player on the court in Game 1.
After spraining his right ankle in the opening game of the second round, Butler missed Game 2. He then returned to average 24.5 points per game on an inefficient 41.7% shooting from the field in the final four games of the series.
That’s far off from his incredible production of 37.6 points per game on 59.7% shooting from the field in the Heat’s first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
But with four days off between the end of the second round and the start of the East finals, Butler looked more like himself on Wednesday.
Butler started strong, totaling 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in the opening quarter of the conference finals.
After scoring just three points in the second quarter, Butler was the catalyst behind the Heat’s second-half surge with 20 points in the final two quarters.
Adebayo was a force that the Celtics’ elite defense couldn’t solve in the opening game of the series.
Adebayo was aggressive from the start, putting up five field-goal attempts in the first five minutes of the game.
With the Celtics not sending much help, Adebayo took advantage of the single coverage to either take the open midrange jumper or attack the basket.
Adebayo closed Game 1 with 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Heat stuck with the same starting lineup to open the East finals, and that decision paid off.
The Heat opened the East finals with the same starting lineup it has used for most of the playoffs: Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love and Bam Adebayo.
After starting guard Tyler Herro broke his hand in Game 1 of the first round, the Heat’s lack of size was exposed in the second game of the first round with Duncan Robinson starting in Herro’s place. So the Heat then moved Love into Herro’s spot in the starting lineup for Game 3 of the first round and has never looked back.
Wednesday marked the ninth time in the last 10 playoff games that the Heat has opened with the Vincent-Strus-Butler-Love-Adebayo combination. The only time Miami didn’t start this lineup during that stretch was when Butler missed Game 2 of the second round against the New York Knicks because of a sprained ankle.
With the Celtics opting to stick with their double-big starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams and Al Horford to begin the East finals, the Heat opened Game 1 with these defensive matchups: Vincent on Brown, Strus on Smart, Butler on Tatum, Love on Horford and Adebayo on Williams.
The Heat’s preferred playoff starting unit has been a positive this postseason, as the group outscored opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions in 129 minutes together during the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Heat’s starting unit was again a big positive on Wednesday, outscoring the Celtics by 14 points in their 15 minutes together in Game 1. This lineup was responsible for the Heat’s 29-15 run to open the third quarter.
The odds are now in the Heat’s favor to make the NBA Finals.
Entering this season, teams that have won Game 1 of a best-of-7 series have gone on to win the series 75.2% of the time (442-146).
It has been a successful formula for the Heat this postseason, as it has won Game 1 on the road in each of the first three rounds of the playoffs. Miami went on to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the first round, the New York Knicks 4-2 in the second round and will look to continue that trend in the conference finals.