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Celtics Hold Off Heat Rallies and Win Game 1 Blowout 114-94

BOSTON — Erik Spoelstra took to the podium as he has for the past three springs to give some perspective on the latest version of Heat-Celtics. A different-looking series he expected to be challenging, but noting that Miami can’t enter fearful. He praised Joe Mazzulla’s growth while taking the coaching matchup out of the equation.

“It’s really not going to be about (me and Mazzulla),” Spoelstra said. “But he’s a very good coach and they’ve had a very productive season this year, they’ve improved all across the board. You have to respect what they’ve done. Their record is what their record was and their point differential and all the records they were breaking during the regular season, but you can’t be fearful of that … the way we view it is no matter who you’re going to pay, when you’re going to play, it’s going to be tough in the playoffs. That’s the first battle, wrap your mind around that and then embrace the joy of competing against an opponent that’s going to present a lot of different challenges.”

Talent and mindset clashed in the opening game, with schemes not enough to prevent Heat rallies or a Celtics blowout win. Boston pulled away, 114-94, after building a 31-point lead that fell to 14 across seven minutes in the first quarter. A similarly overwhelming start where Jaylen Brown scored five straight points and Boston started 7-of-9 slipped slightly before the end of the first. Bodies smashed, including Jayson Tatum and Caleb Martin to end the game, but Tatum, who scored a 23-point triple double, popped up as Brown and the Heat engaged in a skirmish to shoot free throws with one minute left and move onto Game 2.

Mazzulla stuck with Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser after they closed the first quarter 2-for-8 from three alongside Al Horford. Miami forced the ball into their hands and dared them to take long, open and inside shots, respectively. Hauser returned at the start of the second and buried three in a row from deep, sparking a 22-9 Celtics run that thwarted Miami’s turnaround attempt. Still, the end of quarters that Mazzulla emphasized all week kept the Heat close. Miami closed the first on a 7-0 run to pull within 26-21 after trailing 17-3 early. Tyler Herro and Jaime Jaquez walked into wide open shots to close the second. Boston led, 60-45, at halftime.

Boston leaned heavily into the three, shooting away from Heat blitzes and hedges, and over the zone that flashed between quarters. They attempted 20 of their first 28 attempts from behind the line, while the Heat searched for mismatches, at first sloppily, then recovering to shoot 9-for-19 in the opening frame, 4-of-5 around the restricted zone where they tried to set Jaquez and Kevin Love up against Hauser and Pritchard. Their offensive contributions overpowered whatever defensive lapses Boston allowed through the course of the game.

Those tightened up into the third, where Miami fell to 38.7% from the field and 17.9% from three after missing 11-of-13 from deep in the frame. Derrick White found his shot the other way, Boston looking for him after an 0-for-3 start and two-point first half. He got to his floater with nine seconds left in the second quarter before getting to the free throw line and hitting a three following a Brown jump ball win over Nikola Jovic that extended Boston’s lead to 22. Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 points and buried four threes through the third, and more importantly rejected shooters by playing away from Caleb Martin, the near east finals MVP last May who shot 1-for-5 with two points to open the game, playing hot potato with the ball on a possession where Miami suffered a shot clock turnover.

Tatum reached nine assists in the fourth with back-to-back feeds that jolted Horford to a double-figure scoring game. His defense energized the team in the first half as he started 5-for-14 from the field and 1-for-7 from three, twice standing his ground and dislodging the ball from Jaquez, diving to the floor at one point to force the ball to roll off him. Miami won his minutes for most of the night, though, before he finished +3, a reminder of the close margins during some of the key sequences of the game. A devastated Heat team couldn’t sustain them, though.

Porzingis blocked two shots and Boston’s lead mounted to 31 early in the fourth quarter following another White three, who ate a devastating Adebayo screen moments later that landed him on the bench. The physicality the Celtics expected and withstood in the first game of a matchup they embraced. Delon Wright’s five quarter threes made the game as close as 14 late before White, Brown and Tatum buried eight straight free throws to put the game away.

Tatum, on his final attempts, took the ball from Herro and pointed at the opposite free throw line as referees and players prepared to clear and potentially review the clash that happened on the other end. Tatum just wanted to shoot.

“We have to expect them to be ultra aggressive, ultra handsy and trying to do all the little dirty things, not dirty things, but mess up the game to get some advantages,” Porzingis said Saturday. “We have to be ready for that. It’s going to be a war.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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