For the second consecutive series, the Celtics lost Game 1 — falling 118-107 to the Heat on Tuesday in their Eastern Conference finals opener.
It’s tough to see Tuesday’s loss as anything but an opportunity missed. The Celtics were without Marcus Smart (mid-foot sprain) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols), but they ran out to a big first-half lead that ballooned as high as 13.
Then, in the second half, disaster. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown couldn’t stop turning the ball over (Tatum finished the third quarter with a staggering six), and the Heat embarrassed the Celtics — putting together a 20-2 run that erased the deficit and rendered the Celtics’ answering 9-0 run insufficient. Jimmy Butler stole pass after pass as Tatum finished with seven turnovers, and Brown couldn’t find a shooting rhythm until the fourth quarter — at which point the game was essentially a lost cause anyway. The Celtics outscored the Heat in the first, second and fourth quarters, but the Heat won the third 39-14 which proved utterly insurmountable.
“I think we have to come out with a little more sense of urgency in the third,” Tatum said. “And that’s on all of us. That’s a choice we have to make.”
To cap off a disastrous evening, the Celtics kept the game just close enough in the fourth quarter to leave their best players in. As a result, both Tatum and Brown played more than 40 minutes in a game the Celtics were never likely to win.
As they proved last round, the Celtics are a resilient bunch. If it wasn’t for Tatum’s game-winning layup against the Nets, the Celtics likely would have lost Game 1 in every series so far. They can take a hit and punch back quickly, which is meaningful after a loss that ugly.
Whether or not they can be resilient if Horford and/or Smart remain on the bench remains to seen.