By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Make no mistake, the Celtics blew it in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The team’s issues with closing out opponents reared its ugly head once again, and now Boston is in an early series hole to a dangerous Miami Heat team.
The Celtics had a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but that slipped away because some bad fouls by Boston put Miami in the bonus early. The Heat are the best in the NBA at getting to the free throw line, and that’s how they got back into Game 1, hitting 21 of their 28 free throws. The Heat also dominated the paint, outscoring the Celtics 48-26 down low.
The Celtics offense got stagnant in the fourth, with Boston seemingly OK with draining the clock for much of the frame. Their ball movement came to a screeching halt, and when you add in some poor shot selection, it was a recipe for disaster for Boston against a Miami team that has been the comeback kids of the NBA postseason.
“It was exactly how we expected it. It was a great game, two great teams who play really hard. They got the plays that they needed that mattered,” Marcus Smart said after the loss. “They did their job and it’s up to us to come back in Game 2 and do ours.”
Jayson Tatum put up a star stat-line with 30 points and 14 rebounds, but he hit just 10 of his 24 shots from the floor and just four of 12 from three-point range. He missed a contested three in the final seconds of regulation and had a potential game-tying dunk rejected by Bam Adebayo in the final seconds of overtime. Adebayo deserves all the credit for making an absolutely unreal defensive play in the game’s most crucial moment.
“I liked both shots that I got,” Tatum said of his three at the end of regulation and his dunk attempt. “I just missed one and [Bam] made a great play at the rim on the second one. Just taking whatever the defense is giving me.”
Tatum hit just two of his 10 shots in the fourth quarter and overtime, and none of his four three-point attempts. That three-point bid at the end of regulation is drawing a lot of heat from Celtics fans, but Tatum is the guy you want taking that shot. It’s just unfortunate that the play was for him to dribble for an hour before putting up the shot instead of running an actual play. Tatum has to be better in crunch time.
But the game was essentially lost in the final five minutes of regulation, when the Celtics played way too much iso ball instead of trying to move the ball around. The Celtics had just one assist over that span.
Boston had its chances in overtime, but again, the ball stopped moving on offense. After the Celtics took a 110-106 in the extra frame, Miami rattled off a 7-0 run. Boston lost Jae Crowder in the corner and the former Celtic drained a three to give Miami a 111-110 lead. A Kemba Walker stepback gave Boston a 114-113 lead with 23.4 seconds left, but Jimmy Butler drove hard at Tatum on the other end and put it in for the hoop and the harm with 12 seconds left. Tatum was rejected by Adebayo on Boston’s next possession.
Walker had 19 points but struggled mightily again, going 1-for-9 from three-point range. He did hit some big shots late in the game, but he also committed a crucial turnover in the final minute of regulation when Crowder sent back his attempt at an eight-footer with Boston clinging to a two-point lead. He was out of rhythm for much of the contest, which never allowed the Celtics to put the game out of reach.
He came to Boston to be part of winning, but he has unfortunately been a big reason why the Celtics have lost two of their last three games going back to the East semis against Toronto.
“I’ve played terrible to be honest. I have to be better on both ends of the floor,” he said after the loss. “Make better decision and just make shots overall.”
Boston wasted another big game by Smart, who had 26 points off 6-for-13 shooting from deep. Brad Wanamaker was magnificent off the Boston bench with 11 points, six assists and five steals.
The Celtics were moving the ball well early in the game, but then got away from it late. They had Miami on the ropes and let up their grip. It cost them the game, and now they have to dig themselves out of a series hole.
“We got stagnant. We rested and we got complacent, and against a team like this, you can’t get complacent,” Smart said after the game. “Up 14, up 20, up 30, they’re really good at playing from behind. Like I said, when it counted they made the plays down the stretch.”
“Lots of things to talk about and look at, and make adjustments for Game 2. That’s what the playoffs are about, making adjustments,” said Tatum. “You never want to lose a game, but it’s not the end of the world. Best-of-seven. Just get ready for Game 2. It is what it is.”
The Celtics keep saying they’ll fix these stretches of complacency, but they haven’t yet shown that they’ve found the solution while on the floor. They should have known that taking their foot off the gas against a team like Miami — now 9-1 in the playoffs — wasn’t going to end well.
Luckily it’s a long series — or at least it should be. The Celtics have Wednesday to watch their mistakes and poor decisions over and over again and hopefully learn from them before Game 2 tips off Thursday night.