After a sluggish start to their most recent conference finals matchup against the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat needed a soothing influence.
Jimmy Butler delivered all of that and much more.
Butler led the Heat to a 123-116 victory over the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night with 35 points, including 20 after the break.
His comrades, he claimed, have boosted his confidence.
“I’m playing at an incredible level because they are allowing me to do so,” Butler said. “They are not putting a limit on my game. They are trusting me with the ball, on the defensive end. I think that’s what any basketball player wants.”
Miami trailed by nine points at the half before coming back and outscoring Boston 66-50 over the remaining two quarters, setting a franchise playoff record with 46 points in the third. Butler had 30 or more points in his fifth postseason game, and he also had seven assists, six steals, and five rebounds.
“One of the premier two-way basketball players of this association. … That’s what we needed.” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Down the stretch Jimmy was able to do everything we needed — as a scorer and as a facilitator.”
In addition, Bam Adebayo had 20 points and 8 rebounds. In addition, 15 points were scored by Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus. The Heat made 16 of their 31 attempts from beyond the arc.
All three of the playoff series have started with road victories for the No. 8 seeded Heat. Game 2 is on Friday in Boston.
With 30 points, Jayson Tatum led the Celtics, but he didn’t attempt a shot in the last frame. Jaylen Brown totaled 22 points and 9 rebounds in the game. 19 more points came from Malcolm Brogdon.
Boston is only 4-4 at home so far in the playoffs.
Regarding their problems at home, Tatum said, “I don’t know why.” Whether you are at home or away, you must still participate in the game and make plays.
The Celtics, who play their greatest defense and generate more shots than their opponents, made 10 of 29 three-point attempts.
Joe Mazzulla, the Celtics’ head coach, claimed, “We lost our offensive purpose.”
The Heat and Celtics faced up in this round for the third time in four seasons at the series tip-off. The previous meeting was won by Boston in seven games.
The first meeting on Wednesday felt just like a continuation of that most previous one. Boston started out strong inside and led by nine at the break.
According to Spoelstra, his squad was “more intentional” throughout the final 24 minutes.
Miami borrowed a page from the Celtics’ playbook and went on a 13-1 run in the third quarter to tie the score at 78. Broadcast cameras caught Mazzulla throwing a clipboard in anger during the following timeout.
Boston was unable to stop the onslaught, and Miami eventually nudge back in front as Butler broke through to give his teammates opportunity.
The Heat led the Celtics 46-25 in the third and went into the fourth with a 103-91 advantage, drawing some jeers from the TD Garden crowd.
In response, Boston scored the opening seven points of the fourth frame before Vincent’s three-pointer put an end to the run.
When Butler fouled Brogdon with just over three minutes remaining, Miami was up 114-109. However, he only made one of the two free throws. On Miami’s subsequent possession, Butler was pinned before connecting with Martin for a corner three.
Tatum strayed, handing the Heat the ball once more. Boston received the ball back after Miami missed, but Tatum was flagged for traveling once more.
With 1:03 left, Butler hit a three-pointer for Miami after the shot clock had run out.
But in the second half, everything was different.
Butler remarked, “We are just playing really terrific basketball. More than anything, we are sticking together despite good and bad circumstances.