It was the ultimate summit meeting.
Jayson Tatum was attacking the basket in overtime. He was going to send this game into double overtime. He was going in for a dunk that would tie the game with just a few ticks left on the clock. He was cradling the ball and thrusting it down toward the hoop when he was blocked by the catcher’s mitt left hand of Bam Adebayo.
Great block. It was perhaps the best clutch defensive play since LeBron James’s chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in the 2016 Finals. It was Bill Russell-worthy. More than one person on Twitter compared it to Malcolm Butler’s interception in the Super Bowl.
Magic Johnson said Adebayo’s block was "the best defensive play I’ve ever seen in the playoffs.''
That was it. Game over. The Celtics had blown an opportunity to take a 1-0 lead in their Eastern Conference final series against the Miami Heat. Miami won, 117-114, in overtime and the Celtics were spitting up pieces of their broken luck as they tried to make sense of a loss that never should have happened.
Boston led by 13 in the first quarter. Boston led by 14 in the fourth quarter. Boston led by 5 with a minute left in regulation. With the score tied nearing the end of the fourth quarter, the Celtics had the ball with 22 seconds left and wasted the opportunity. Playing annoying iso-ball, Tatum dribbled out the clock and settled for a last-second 3-point hoist that had no chance. It reminded me of Magic dribbling out the clock in the final seconds of regulation when the Lakers coughed up Game 2 of the NBA Finals at the Garden in 1984. After Tatum’s hideous heave clanged off the rim, it was on to overtime and the team that wanted it more won the game. Tatum missed his last seven shots. He was Antoine Walker 2.0. Ball hog. Glory hog. Unacceptable.
One game means nothing in a seven-game series, but this was an awful loss for a Celtic team that is on the threshold of the NBA Finals. This was a waste.
The Boston-Miami series opener was the first Celtics-Heat playoff game since June of 2012 when LeBron and Co. beat the Celtics in Game 7 of the conference finals in Miami. That was the last game Garnett, Pierce and Allen played together. It was also the last basketball game covered by legendary Bob Ryan, who started covering the Celtics in 1968. When the Celtics and Heat met in the 2012-2013 season opener almost five months later, Allen was a member of the Heat. It was a frosty night in Miami.
This is Boston-Miami week in New England sports. The Patriots beat the Dolphins Sunday and the Red Sox (now neck-and-neck with the Revs in terms of relevance) were at Marlins Park in Miami when the Celtics tipped off with the Heat.
Old-timers view this as a renewal of the Riley-Celtics rivalry that stoked New England from 1984-87, when Riley’s Lakers played the Larry Bird Celtics in three NBA Finals over a stretch of four seasons. Riley developed a deep hatred for all things Boston in those years. He switched hotels twice in the ’84 Finals because of false fire alarms at the Copley Marriott and Westin. Riley, who coached almost 2,000 NBA games and twice beat the Celtics in the Finals, has been president of the Heat since 2008 and stuck with baby-faced coach Erik Spoelstra, who looked overmatched when he first coached King LeBron in 2010. Nobody takes Spoelstra lightly anymore.
The Heat have ex-Celtics Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder. I don’t know about you, but I can’t look at Olynyk without remembering that Danny Ainge took the Gonzaga big man with the 13th pick of the 2013 draft when Giannis Antetokounmpo was still on the board. Crowder is best remembered as a good player who was totally overrated by local Green Teamers.
The Celtics bolted to a 24-11 lead when Marcus Smart drilled a three with four minutes left in the first. Smart was on fire early, but that can be dangerous. He got exuberant, missed a bunch of shots and the Heat were able to close to within 8 (26-18) at the end of one. It was Miami’s lowest first quarter total of the 2020 playoffs.
If you are a Celtic fan, you probably like Smart or Tatum as your favorite player of the series. I will take Duncan Robinson, simply based on his local pedigree. Robinson is a native of York, Maine, and played for Governor’s Academy (formerly Governor Dummer), Phillips Exeter and Division 3 Williams before transferring to Michigan. He was not drafted. He is the only Williams Eph ever to play in the Eastern Conference finals. He carried the med kit on every road trip when he played at Williams.
Goran Dragic keyed a second-quarter Heat comeback. A 3-pointer by Crowder gave Miami a 47-44 lead with four minutes left in the half. Maybe the Green Teamers were right about Crowder. At this juncture, we were not seeing a lot from Kemba Walker or Jaylen Brown. The Celtics had trouble with Spoelstra’s zone and shot 7 for 22 after hitting 10 of the first 15 from the floor. It was 55-55 at halftime.
Struggling to make threes, Walker hit a shot-clock-beating trey to put the Celtics back in the lead midway through the third. Smart followed with a transition three to complete a 9-0 run and give the Celtics a 65-61 lead. The Celtics closed the third with a 13-2 run and led 83-71 after three.
Then came the disastrous fourth. Walker was terrible. Tatum took the apple.
One game in, this looks like it is going to be a great series. But the Celtics know they let the first one get away. Game 2 can’t come fast enough.