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Adam Himmelsbach | Instant Analysis

The Celtics were pummeled from all angles, and other observations from their Game 1 loss

Derrick White is fouled by Miami's Tyler Herro during the first quarter of Tuesday's Game 1.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

MIAMI — The Celtics insisted that they would be rested and ready for the start of the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat after a long, grueling, physical series against the Bucks. But Miami was able to just sit back and watch it all transpire.

And after a strong first half in Game 1 on Tuesday night, the Celtics were pummeled from all angles by the Heat, who used a dominant third quarter to roll to a 118-107 win.

The Celtics were without guard Marcus Smart, who missed the game because of a sprained foot, and forward Al Horford, who entered COVID-19 protocols. The status of both players for Game 2 Thursday night is unclear.


Jayson Tatum had 29 points to lead the Celtics, but just 8 came in the second half. He also had seven turnovers, including six in the dismal third quarter. Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 41 points and nine rebounds.

The Celtics led at halftime, 62-54, but the Heat started the third quarter with a 22-2 run, and things hardly got better for Boston after that. The Celtics did not get their first field goal until Robert Williams scored inside with 4:53 left, and they managed just one more in the quarter, finishing an abysmal 2 for 15 with eight turnovers in the period.

“[The game] flipped very quickly,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said, “and [we] just lost our composure.”

The Heat took a 96-76 lead on three Tyler Herro free throws with 10:45 left, and the Celtics’ night appeared over. They went on a quick 10-0 run to give themselves a chance, but it never turned into something more.

Observations from the game:

▪ The Celtics shot 59.1 percent from the field in the first half, took the crowd out of it, and generally appeared in control. But it felt like their 8-point halftime lead should have been bigger. Then the third quarter started, the Celtics’ energy was uncharacteristically low, and Butler and the Heat seized control.


Miami’s 22-2 run didn’t really include a stretch of scorching shooting. Instead, the Heat got into the free throw penalty, forced one turnover after another, and wore down the Celtics.

“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.”

▪ Jaylen Brown seemed to be in a fog at both ends for long segments of the game. He had stretches like this during the regular season that seemed to come out of nowhere, and he bounced back. But he wasn’t engaged in this game until the fourth quarter, when he played a key role in the Celtics’ mini comeback. By that time, it was too late. Look for Brown to bounce back in Game 2.

▪ With Horford sidelined, the return of Williams became even more essential. The Celtics were relieved that his recent setback was because of a bone bruise on his knee rather than complications from his recent meniscus surgery, but there still may have been some concerns about rust after a four-game layoff. He quickly allayed them in this game, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.


Maybe Williams’s absence from the final four games of the Bucks series was a blessing in disguise, because he avoided the pounding during that physical matchup. The Heat made a nice adjustment in the third quarter, though, when they sent a guard into the paint to swarm him after catching a lob inside. This resulted in a pair of turnovers.

The Celtics had a brief scare when Williams limped off the court favoring his knee in the fourth quarter, but Udoka said after the game it was just a cramp.

▪ Second-year wing Aaron Nesmith received his first meaningful minutes of this postseason when he checked in during the second quarter. And he deserves credit for being ready.

He had one tremendous play when the Heat rushed upcourt on a three-on-one break — a play most players would simply cede — as he soared and swatted Caleb Martin at the rim. Moments later he pulled down an offensive rebound that ended with a Williams dunk, and then Nesmith deflected a pass that led to a fast-break basket. He added another incredible block in the third quarter, but also missed all three of his 3-point attempts and committed a foul on a 3-pointer.

▪ The Celtics had 42 points in the paint as they aggressively attacked the rim in the first half but mustered just 6 in the second. That disparity is somewhat deceiving, since Boston took so many free throws and also needed to launch 3-pointers in order to craft its comeback, but it was also an indicator that the Celtics got away from what was working.


▪ Butler did well getting to his spots throughout the night, and he put the Celtics in a bad spot by drawing fouls with pump fakes, quick stops, and timely leans. Butler was 17 for 18 from the foul line.

“We bailed him out a couple of times,” Payton Pritchard said. “Jumped on his pump fake. So just try to limit those.”

▪ In the first half Tatum was, well, Tatum. He looked poised and confident and certainly did not appear worn down after that draining Bucks series. And like most of the Celtics, he did most of his damage in the paint, clearly happy to no longer be dealing with the length and physicality of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. Tatum’s finest moment came in the second quarter, when he made a pair of circus shots in the paint before side-stepping into a 3-pointer.

But he regressed in the third quarter, when he once again spent more time complaining to officials than making big plays. He was held without a field goal in the period and committed six turnovers.

“A lot of them were just strictly playing the crowd, trying to draw a foul instead of just making the right play,” Udoka said. “We all got caught up in officiating a little bit in that quarter when they got physical, and instead of trying to make the right play, drive and kick, get to the basket, we were looking for fouls, and that led to some of those turnovers.”


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.