MIAMI, Florida – Jimmy Butler led the eighth-seeded Miami Heat to a 123 to 116 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday in game one of the NBA Eastern Conference finals Butler scored 35 points, and the eighth-seeded Miami Heat had a scorching third quarter.
In the third quarter, Heat outscored Boston 46 to 25 to take control after overcoming a 13-point second-quarter deficit and steal the Celtics’ home-court advantage.
Despite scoring 30 points and leading Boston to a game-seven victory over the Philadelphia 76ers with a heroic 51 points, Jayson Tatum committed two vital mistakes in the closing minutes as the Heat tightened their defensive clamps.
Butler also had six steals, seven assists, and five rebounds. For Miami, Bam Adebayo had 20 points along with eight rebounds, five assists, and 15 points each from Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, and Kyle Lowry.
Butler got things going right away once more, scoring 12 points in the opening quarter, giving him a double-digit first period for a sixth time in these playoffs.
The first quarter saw 13 lead changes and the Celtics winning 30 to 28, but it was a back-and-forth contest with neither team ahead by more than four points.
When the Celtics increased their lead to as many as 13 points in the second quarter, they went into the half with a 66 to 57 advantage. Tatum got hot during this time.
Marcus Smart contributed to Boston’s first-half 40 to 16 victory over Miami in the paint by tying a career-high for a half with 10 assists, which helped the team’s aggressive attack stay on track.
However, the Heat came back strongly in the third and went into the fourth with a 12-point advantage. The Heat struggled mightily in the first half, committing 11 turnovers, but only one in the third, when they completely controlled the game.
With 2:31 remaining, Boston had cut the deficit to four after starting the fourth with a 7 to 0 run.
After Tatum was flagged for traveling on back-to-back possessions, Butler hit a three-pointer dagger to give Miami a 10-point lead with 1:03 left in the game. Martin then sank a corner three-pointer off a dish from Butler.
While the Celtics only made 10 of their 29 shots from beyond the arc, Miami made 16 of their 31 attempts.
As Miami managed to contain him, Tatum didn’t make a shot in the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth, during a rush for a lost ball that saw several players hit the court, Jaylen Brown, who finished with 22 points for Boston, got a fright. He emerged from the court grimacing and clutching his left forearm.
Butler said the Heat won’t be satisfied with leaving Boston with a split of the first two games in the best-of-seven series, but the Celtics will want to tie the game when they host it on Friday.
The Heat and Boston are facing off in the conference finals for the third time in four years.
The Heat overcame a regular season marred by injuries to get through the play-in round and earn the eighth seed, defeating the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Miami was the top seed in the East last year.
The Celtics, who defeated Miami 4 to 3 the previous season, are seeded second once more as they attempt to advance to the NBA Finals after losing to the Golden State Warriors in the championship series the previous year.
The Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets will compete for the championship against the series winner.