The Heat held a clinic in the third quarter of Tuesday’s 118-107 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and according to Ime Udoka, their star players let the game ‘get away’ from ‘them.
After the game, the Celtics coach blamed Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for Miami’s second-half takeover, which saw the Heat go 22-2.
“Have Marcus [Smart] et al [Horford] could have helped because they set us up, but it wasn’t really all that,” udoka said. “And it wasn’t our young guys, Payton [Pritchard] and Aaron [Nesmith]. But it was our veterans Jayson and Jaylen who let it slip away.
Smart was already listed as doubtful for Game 1 after sustaining a midfoot sprain in Sunday’s Game 7 against the Bucks in the previous round. Smart underwent an MRI on his right foot on Monday and the imaging came back clean, by ESPN.
But it was Horford’s absence that came as a surprise when the Boston big man was ruled out on Tuesday afternoon after being placed under league health and safety protocols. It is possible that protocols prevent Horford from participating in multiple games.
Tatum scored 29 for the Celtics, and Brown added 24, to go with 18 each from Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard, who played key roles in Game 1 with a limited roster.
The Heat took a 62-54 lead at halftime. Miami came out strong in the third quarter and outscored the Celtics, 39-14. Boston didn’t score a field goal in the first six minutes of the second half — the slowest start to the half in all of the Celtics’ 94 games this season, according to ESPN.
After the game, Tatum took responsibility for the Celtics’ struggles on the stretch.
“I will take the blame for this. I have to lead better,” says Tatum, who had seven turnovers in Game 1. “I have to play better. Especially in those times.
Tatum scored just eight of his 29 points in the second half. Brown also missed a number of prime shooting opportunities, including free throws, to keep Boston alive in Game 1.
“[We] got overwhelmed, physically overwhelmed,” Udoka said when asked what happened in the third quarter. “They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to increase their physicality and aggression on both sides, and they did. I don’t think we reacted well on either side of the room. We’ve had eight of our 16 turnovers this quarter. Played in the crowd on offense, sped up. And then defensively – offensive rebounds, muscle up in the post. A few bad fouls brought them to the free throw line.
Udoka proved throughout the Boston playoffs that he could make adjustments on the fly. He’ll try to do that on Thursday, when Game 2 gets tips in Miami.