Did Heat Demonstrate Dirty Plan Of Attack For Celtics In Game 1?

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Before the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat went head-to-head in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, Kristaps Porzingis foreshadowed how the clash between the Eastern Conference foes would go down.

“We have to expect them to be ultra-aggressive, ultra-handsy,” Porzingis told reporters during a team practice before Game 1 with Miami, per CLNS Media. “… It’s gonna be a war.”

That prediction came to life, although it wasn’t at the opening tip on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t at the start of the second quarter when fresh off a breather, the Heat trailed the Celtics 26-23 with plenty of time to readjust. Miami’s “ultra” aggressiveness, which Porzingis envisioned, arrived at Boston’s parquet in the fourth quarter while the Celtics were ahead by 16 points with under a minute left in regulation.

Boston star Jayson Tatum, while in the middle of his first career playoff triple-double, rose to secure a defensive rebound, but took a hard foul after being shoved by Heat guard Caleb Martin. Tatum’s feet were above the floor while Martin, who claimed there were no ill intentions, suspiciously didn’t compete for the rebound with Tatum based on his motions. Martin even sparked a reaction from Celtics co-star Jaylen Brown, who approached him along with Boston assistant coach Tony Dobbins, who rushed to the floor to check on Tatum and help ease the tensions between both sides.

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“I was waiting to see what (Tatum) was going to do,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said after Boston’s 114-94 win. “I was kind of excited about the whole situation. I enjoyed watching it.”

With no issue, Tatum dusted himself off, led both teams to the other end of the floor, and knocked down both free throws from Martin’s hard foul. However, did Martin’s irresponsible antics signal Miami’s general game plan?

Martin’s physical check of Tatum came shortly after Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra called at 1:30 in the fourth quarter, which drew further suspicion.

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“I’m not trying to start nothing here, but Erik Spoelstra called a timeout with 1:30 left down by 16 (points),” analyst Brian Scalabrine said during NBC Sports Boston’s postgame show. “Thirty seconds later, that play happens. Thirty seconds later. Why is he calling a timeout with 1:30? Why is that play happening, that play right there, 30 seconds later? That looked shady to me.”

The Celtics slightly let go of the rope in the final frame, but Miami didn’t have the talent to compete and successfully play catch-up. Without franchise leader Jimmy Butler, who isn’t expected to return for the rest of the series against Boston, the Heat looked like they didn’t belong. Miami’s interior game produced only 24 points to 44 from the Celtics and Spoelstra’s defense allowed Boston to hit a franchise playoff-record-tying 22 threes.

So while it stands as a conspiracy that Miami is using an over-the-top physical approach to try and bridge the talent gap with the league-best 64-win Celtics, it’s not a Kristaps Porzingis-sized reach.

When Miami and Boston met during last year’s conference finals round, Tatum suffered an ankle injury in Game 7, landing on the foot of then-Heat guard Gabe Vincent. Regardless of whether there was intent or not then, Tatum’s injury made a critical defense as he scored only 14 points in 42 minutes, which Miami probably kept in mind.

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Without Butler, the primary source of toughness and grit, the Heat proved to be a watered-down version of the team that defied its low expectations as a No. 8 seed which stunningly reached the NBA Finals in 2023. Going basket-for-basket didn’t work, leaving virtually no options heading into Game 2.

If the Celtics kick it up a notch and play up to their peak, Spoelstra, Martin, and all of Miami, will be in for a rude awakening on Wednesday night.

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