Jimmy Butler made a miraculous go-ahead floater while drawing a foul on Jayson Tatum with 12 seconds to play and Bam Adebayo came up with what proved to be a game-saving block on a Tatum dunk attempt with 3.7 seconds left as the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 117-114 in overtime Tuesday night.
A fabulous, tightly-contested game for all 53 minutes that saw the lead change 13 times and the game draw even four times, the dramatic finish to the contest proved to be but a microcosm of the excellent play seen all game long. Hopefully it’s a prelude of what appears will be an instant-classic series that will go the full seven-game distance.
Here are a few takeaways from a fantastic Eastern Conference Finals opener.
Jimmy, Bam come up clutch when it matters most
If you were to take a look at just the final box score stats of Butler and Adebayo from Tuesday’s contest you might come across a little unimpressed.
Outside of the nine assists recorded by Adebayo, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about Butler’s 20-point, five-rebound, five-assist night on 7-of-14 shooting, nor Adebayo’s 18 points and six rebounds on 5-for-12 shooting.
By these two all-stars’ lofty standards, this looks like any other old day at the office.
But, as the adage goes, that’s why you watch the games.
Butler scored eight of his 20 points and Adebayo dropped 11 of his 18 between the fourth quarter and overtime in Game 1, elevating their respective games when their team needed it most.
That’s clutch play defined right there with that go-ahead and-one play from Butler and massive block from Adebayo proving to be the icing on cake.
The Heat have a real Herro on their hands
Of course, it wasn’t just Butler and Adebayo that helped save the day for Miami.
Goran Dragic’s career revival since being re-inserted into the starting lineup continued Tuesday as he scored 29 points, including 11 alone in the second quarter as his shot-making helped keep the Heat in the game early in the contest.
But as brilliant as Dragic was in Game 1 it was another sharpshooter who ended up stealing the spotlight a bit late for Miami.
Rookie Tyler Herro had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds and was given the trust from head coach Erik Spoelstra to close out the fourth quarter and play nearly all of overtime, primarily on the strength of both his ability and his courage.
Herro scored six points in the fourth quarter on a couple of huge made threes late in the frame that separately brought the Heat within three points and then two points.
The kid was ready for primetime.
Tatum’s brilliance fades in overtime
Before overtime began, Tatum was every bit the budding superstar he’s been anointed as during these playoffs, scoring 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting and getting buckets nearly every way imaginable: step-back threes, mid-range jimmies over good defence, slithering drives, etc.
And then the extra frame hit and, like a magician, he disappeared, scoring just two points on 0-for-4 shooting, including an 0-for-2 mark from deep, and, of course seeing what would’ve been a huge slam turned aside by Adebayo’s big left hand in the dying seconds of the game.
So, what happened?
Well, in overtime in particular, it looked like Celtics coach Brad Stevens was calling for Tatum to isolate and try to take his man – Butler mostly – one-on-one, trusting in his star’s ability to make the right play.
Given Tatum’s immense talent it’s not a bad idea in theory, but it didn’t work, and the defence played on him during overtime was probably the single greatest reason for the Celtics’ loss.
Lots of positives for Celtics despite loss
There’s no way around it, this was a very winnable game for the Celtics and they let it slip away and that can’t feel good. But instead of wallowing in what ifs, Boston would be better served by focusing on what it did well and, quite frankly there was a lot of that to be found.
For example, though he faltered in overtime, Tatum looked near-unstoppable through most of the game. That’s a very encouraging sign for the Celtics as it means they may have the best player in the series, even better than Butler on the Heat.
Or what about Kemba Walker finally finding life late in the game after scoring just nine points on 2-of-11 shooting through the first three quarters? Walker came alive in the fourth and overtime, scoring 10 points on a much more efficient 4-of-10 mark from the floor that included a signature clutch step-back jumper to give Boston the lead with 23 seconds to play.
And, lastly, Marcus Smart kept his hot shooting hand going from Boston’s series with Toronto as he went 6-for-13 from three-point range while still playing his all-world level defence (and general pain in the opponent’s side).
So it wasn’t the result Boston wanted, but it’s not like Game 1 was a complete disaster, either. The Celtics will surely have their chances again.