Every time the Miami Heat win Game 1, they win the series.
What has been true for the Heat in each of its two previous playoff series should be equally concerning for a Boston Celtics team that lost home-court advantage with a 123-116 loss at TD Garden in the opening of the series on Wednesday.
The Heat are going to walk on your floor, and if your team isn’t ready for a dogfight, Miami is going to beat you.
That’s what they did in their first round at the FiServ Forum in Milwaukee before eliminating the conference-favorite Bucks in five games. And that’s how the Heat outscored the Knicks in six games in the second round, first by stealing home-court advantage with a Game 1 win at Madison Square Garden.
There’s something almost emasculating about an underdog winning the first game on the road. Just ask the Celtics fans who booed their home team off the field after an embarrassing performance with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
History favors the team that wins the series opener. Seventy-eight percent of teams that take a 1-0 lead in the series win their playoff series.
Those numbers favor the Heat more than any other team in recent memory. The Heat won Game 1 as the underdog in every round as the fifth seed of the 2020 NBA Playoffs en route to the NBA Finals, where they ultimately lost to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now the Heat are doing it again. Head coach Erik Spoelstra told a reporter “you’re getting too far ahead,” but the vision for his team’s journey to the NBA Finals is as clear as it has been all season.
Especially if Jimmy Butler keeps playing like this.
Butler put the league on notice when he snagged 56 points on the Milwaukee Bucks’ supposedly best defense. He played on a bad ankle and still had his way with Tom Thibodeau’s vaunted Knicks defense, and in Game 1 against the Celtics on Wednesday, he hung 35 points on 48% shooting from the field and was successful. six interceptions, including the game-sealing interception with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter.
Butler is averaging 31.5 points per game in 11 playoff games. The biggest impact, Spoelstra says, is the effect the All-Star winger has on his teammates, especially when games start to shake.
The Celtics built a 13-point lead in the first half, but the Heat worked to keep the deficit from spiraling at halftime. They then beat the Celtics, 46-25, in just the third quarter.
And for every bucket Butler scored, three more came from his teammates. Bam Adebayo scored 20 points and Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry, Max Struss and Caleb Martin each scored 15 apiece.
Spoelstra said it’s the confidence in Butler’s abilities that brings ease to the rest of the team.
“You can’t quantify it. There’s nothing analytical about it. Just the feeling of stability in the dressing room,” he said. “Even when you’re nine in the first half, we played badly, but we have to credit Boston because they made us play badly. There’s just a settling effect that’s impossible to quantify. We’re at “Hit distance. Let’s just settle into our games. Jimmy will make a bunch of plays, Bam will make a bunch of plays and we’ll settle into our roles. But that’s exactly what great players do.”
And after Wednesday night, belief in Jayson Tatum wavered.
No player looked more lost in the final minutes of Game 1 than Tatum, who finished with 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field and a perfect 11-of-11 from the foul line, but stifled the game by final. closure of possessions.
Tatum turned the ball over four times in Game 1, but three of those giveaways came in the 3:19 game finale. The Celtics MVP candidate forgot how to play basketball, traveling on back-to-back possessions. He disappeared from the game in the fourth quarter and only scored on a pair of free throws in the final five minutes of the game.
It’s the same Tatum superstar who buried the Philadelphia 76ers with a 51-point performance in Game 7 of the second round.
The Celtics followed that series, 3-2, before coming back to win in seven.
If Tatum can be that special against the Heat, the Celtics will have a chance to turn the series in their favor in a bid to make a second straight NBA Finals appearance.
One thing is certain: these Heat are not 76ers. These Heat are perennial playoff chasers.
And after Game 1, the Celtics look like they’re being hunted.