Three Takeaways After Celtics Deliver Game 1 Punch Vs. Heat

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BOSTON — After a week filled with eagerness, anticipation, and sweat-pouring practices, the Celtics transferred everything preached beforehand by head coach Joe Mazzulla to make an example of the Heat in Game 1.

Hungry for vengeance with memories of last season’s Eastern Conference finals still in mind, Boston exploited the many weaknesses of a Miami team without Jimmy Butler. An absent Butler coupled with home-court advantage, the Celtics were positioned to get a head start over Miami and attack its less-talented, shorthanded unit — which they did with a 114-94 win.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to get the job done.

“I think we have to take that moment when they start to make that comeback as a driving force for us going forward,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “They can make shots, they can throw some punches back, too. And they’re dangerous, too. So we cannot just take it for granted and be like, ‘We’re gonna be able to walk past them.’”

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The Celtics didn’t play to their peak, allowing the Heat to record the highest-scoring quarter (35 points) in the fourth, showing minor signs of complacency amid their finish-line cross. It wasn’t a Gino Time-worthy performance by any measure, however, that wasn’t the primary focus. Boston needed to stiff-arm Miami and force Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to hit the drawing board with a game plan aimed at evening the series in Game 2.

Mission accomplished.

Here are three takeaways from Boston’s Game 1 victory on Sunday afternoon:

1. First-quarter urgency can’t be abandoned, it must be maintained
It was there but faded away and presented two sides of Boston’s elite offense: the good and the ugly.

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The Celtics were the opening aggressor, going on a 14-0 run, which consisted of a combination of threes and inside scoring. Jaylen Brown flexed his physicality when matched with Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Porzingis scored from all areas of the floor. Leaning toward a diverse source of scoring piled the early pressure on the Heat, but the issue crept up once Boston elected to play lazy and punt on the interior scoring.

In the final two minutes, the Celtics went 0-for-6 from three, at times not even allowing the offense to set before taking shots reminiscent of a team desperate to fight against the clock. Why? That game plan didn’t make Boston a 64-win team, nor could it be attributed to the team’s record-setting 11.34-point differential in the regular season.

“We talk about all the time not getting bored with making the right play, finding a mismatch drawing to and surround yourself with shooters,” Jayson Tatum said after recording a triple-double in Game 1.

When the Celtics are utilizing their widespread offensive scoring ability, very few teams can match them. Miami isn’t one of them, but that doesn’t mean that the Heat will play defeated throughout the entirety of the series.

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2. Depth is the gift that keeps on giving for the Celtics
In the regular season, depth allowed for an injury management approach to be applied to Porzingis. It ultimately helped build a more-than-comfortable lead from atop the conference, so rest nights could be divvied up if necessary.

Sam Hauser, who went 0-for-2 from three in the first quarter against Miami’s zone defense stepping into the playoffs, answered the call when Boston’s lead was crumbling. At the start of the second quarter, Hauser drained three consecutive 3-pointers and a fourth minutes later, helping boost the Celtics from being ahead three points to owning 12 points of separation from Miami.

“You can’t get to the percentage that you have unless you shoot them,” Mazzulla explained. “I texted him after the 1-for-18 game (against the Kings) and said, ‘The ultimate compliment is you got to miss 12 threes in an NBA game.’ That’s a huge positive. You have to look at that that way. We need those guys (Hauser and Payton Pritchard) to be effective.”

Boston’s bench scored 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting, split between Hauser, Pritchard and Al Horford.

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3. Miami looked like a lost, confused puppy without Jimmy Butler
The Heat had no leader and they played just like it.

Defensively, Miami couldn’t keep up once the Celtics played with poise and confidence. Boston shot better from three, out-rebounded the Heat, scored 20 more points in the paint, and was significantly better at shot-blocking.

“It’s clear: Boston controlled this game from the tip,” Spoelstra admitted. “The very first possession, offensive rebound, three. And from there, they controlled it. You have to give them credit. They won the big muscle areas, definitely won the 3-point line, and the majority of the areas in between, including defensively.”

No signs indicate Miami will go down in an ugly fashion for four straight games, but Game 1 wasn’t encouraging by any stretch.

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