• Heat vs. Celtics: Complete Series Coverage
MIAMI — There was a lot to digest from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, a 118-107 victory for the Miami Heat. The Boston Celtics won three of four quarters, but were beaten outright in the third. And that was the difference as the Heat took a 1-0 series lead.
Every game in a playoff series is different, but Game 1 sets the stage for the rest. Here are some notes, numbers and videos to get you ready for Game 2 on Thursday (8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN)…
Kyle Lowry (Miami), Al Horford (Boston) and Marcus Smart (Boston) missed Game 1 on Tuesday. For Game 2, Lowry is listed as out and Horford is in doubt. But Smart is likely to make his series debut.
Kia’s Defensive Player of the Year will likely help the Celtics’ defense. The Heat’s 118 points on 97 possessions (121.6 per 100) Tuesday was Boston’s worst defensive performance of the playoffs. And of the three teams the Celtics have faced, Miami is the one that ranked lowest offensively in the regular season.
Smart’s return to the starting lineup would move Derrick White back to the bench and (likely) result in less playing time for Payton Pritchard, who played 30 minutes Tuesday. Pritchard was upset defensively in the fourth quarter of Game 1, when Gabe Vincent placed more ball blocks (9) than any other full game in his carrer.
But Pritchard also gave the Celtics some offense on Tuesday. Boston and Miami combined for 145 points on 121 possessions in those 30 minutes. White’s minutes weren’t that great at the Celtics’ end of the floor and it will be interesting to see which of the two backup shooting guards gets more time in Game 2.
2. Ball movement stifled
The Celtics’ defense had an impact on Miami’s offense.
Through the first two rounds, the Heat ranked fourth in the playoffs in ball movement, averaging 320 passes per 24 minutes of possession, according to Second Spectrum tracking. But his 231 passes (with 21.1 minutes of possession) in Game 1 were 20 fewer than in any other game this season.
The Celtics defense will do that. They’re (generally) switching ball screens, keeping Miami’s offense flat. They’re also trying to negate the Heat’s dribbling transfer actions…
On that play, Jayson Tatum prevented Gabe Vincent from receiving an early pass from Bam Adebayo. After the initial attempt, Vincent turned and started another attempt the other way. But Tatum was ready. Adebayo was then able to pass the ball to Max Strus, but White was right there and eventually forced a fumble.
“They’re a unique defensive team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday. “I think we’re going to have to fight for what we do, how we do it, and try to get to that most of the time. But that’s also why you have great players.”
In fact, one of the reasons the Heat scored efficiently despite a lack of ball movement on Tuesday was Jimmy Butler’s ability to catch baskets and get to the free throw line. Tyler Herro was also able to put points on the board with minimal ball movement.
This may be a series where the Heat need Butler and Herro to salvage more possessions than usual with their offense off the dribble.
“You get to this time of year,” Spoelstra said, “and you can have the best plans to change a defense, move it around and play off the shutdowns. It gets harder and harder with each round to be able to do that. [The Celtics] they are so well educated and well trained and really competitive [with] two way guys. You have to get everything you can get. And they’re probably saying the same thing.
But we would like to try [play] the way we’ve played all year, we have segments of the game where we can get to that. We saw that last night. You’re not going to get to that all the time and I think the balance that we had was appropriate when it wasn’t too much.
“You have too much of that and they are really good. You just saw the previous two rounds and the kind of offensive talents they were able to limit. It’s going to take a real collective effort offensively.”
3. Not so moody
The Celtics didn’t really turn around as much in Game 1 as they usually do. According to Second Spectrum, they activated just 22 (27%) of Miami’s 81 ball screens in Game 1. That was the Celtics’ lowest turnover rate in the playoffs.
Robert Williams III (returning from a four-game absence) and Daniel Theis were mostly in “drop” coverage, allowing the Heat to get in on jump shots or gain advantages on the roll…
The Celtics also dabbled in some “blitz” coverage, but that didn’t pan out, with Dewayne Dedmon getting a dunk, because Jaylen Brown couldn’t rotate down from the weakside (see Grant Williams’ reaction below)…
The numbers weren’t good for the Celtics no matter what their pick-and-roll coverage was. But the drop numbers (1.35 points per opportunity) were worse than the change numbers (1.17). And one of the first things to watch in Game 2 will be how Williams defends those ball screens on Miami’s early possessions.
4. Room for improvement
The Heat beat a big team by 11 points on Tuesday, but because they lost the first, second and fourth quarters, they know they can play better in Game 2. The Sixers averaged 34.3 restricted-area points per game against Miami in the conference semifinals. The Celtics had nearly that many (32) in the first half of Game 1.
And part of the problem was the transition defense. The Celtics even pulled off a transition layup after a score at the other end of the floor…
The Heat also got away with a few mistakes, like a miscommunication between Butler and PJ Tucker that led to an open 3-pointer for Brown…
But Miami also had great moments of defense at half court…
We can probably expect more from good defense than bad defense from both teams in Game 2. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Heat’s performance on Tuesday is the most efficient game we get from either team in this series.
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John Schuhmann is a senior analytics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his file here, and follow him on twitter.
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