The 2020 NBA Playoffs have already provided us with several memorable moments, from game-winners to finger blocks to massive upsets. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics continued that running theme and added another indelible moment to that list, with Heat big man Bam Adebayo blocking a potential dunk by the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum in the dying seconds of overtime to preserve Miami’s 117-114 win.
The block may stand out from the rest of the game, but the teams also played a back and forth match that took 53 minutes to decide and included comebacks, clutch baskets, and great individual performances from both sides.
Here are three takeaways from the Heat’s thrilling win in the series opener:
1. The stars came to play, but Miami’s stars shone brighter
In a game with four NBA All-Stars, it was the Heat’s best players who made the winning plays in Game 1. Butler made another clutch basket for Miami, driving and scoring over Tatum and completing a three-point play to give his team a 116-114 lead with 12 seconds left in overtime. The five-time All-Star finished with 20 points, shooting 7-of-14 from the field and adding five boards and five assists. And while Butler made his mark on offense, Adebayo showed up on defense. The first-time All-Star blocked Tatum’s potential game-tying basket in the dying seconds to preserve Miami’s win. The first time All-Star finished with 18 points, six boards, nine assists, and two blocks, none more important than the one on Tatum.
Tatum was unstoppable for most of the game, finishing with a game-high 30 points on 10-of-24 (41.7-percent) shooting, 14 rebounds, five assists, and three steals. The Heat defense didn’t exactly make it easy for him, but he still got his points on a variety of difficult jumpers, lay-ups, and 3-pointers. However, he couldn’t find his mark in overtime, scoring just two points on free throws while missing all four of his shots. Walker, despite shooting just 6-of-19 (31.6-percent) from the field in his first Conference Finals game, made several baskets in the endgame, including four in overtime. But in the end, it was Butler and Adebayo who made the plays that mattered.
The Heat got a huge boost from a former All-Star in Dragic, who has increased his production from the NBA regular season. The 34-year old finished with team-high 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting (57.9-percent), seven rebounds, and four assists. That includes 11 points in the second quarter when he made five of his six shots to keep Miami in the game at a time when Boston was threatening to pull away. The stars came to play for both teams in the opening game of what should be an exciting series, but it was the Heat’s stars who shone under the spotlight, especially in overtime.
2. The Heat’s red-hot 3-point shooting continues
The Heat entered the NBA Conference Finals making 39-percent of their 3-pointers, which ranks third among playoff teams and was an improvement from their shooting during the NBA regular season. But their hot-shooting from beyond the arc was expected to taper off especially since the Celtics excelled at guarding the perimeter. Prior to Game 1, Boston held the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors to just 30.5-percent shooting from 3-point range, the best mark in the playoffs. If there was a team that could cool down the Heat’s scorching 3-point shooting, it was the Celtics.
But it didn’t happen, at least not in Game 1. The Heat shot 16-of-36 from long distance in the series opener, making 44.4-percent of their triples. Dragic, Butler, Jae Crowder, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro all made at least two triples for Miami. Crowder in particular making the Celtics’ defense pay for leaving him open by draining five of his nine 3-pointers. The 20-year old Herro, meanwhile, showed nerves of steel despite being the youngest player to compete in the NBA Conference Finals, making two crucial triples in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics also made 15 3-pointers of their own in Game 1, although they shot six more times from beyond the arc. A lion’s share of their made threes came from Marcus Smart, who continued his torrid shooting and made 6-of-13 triples to finish with 26 points. But if Boston wants to avoid another Heat comeback and even the series in Game 2, they need to be able to neutralize one of Miami’s main weapons in the playoffs.
3. We could be in for another great series
It’s a small sample size, but if Game 1 of the Conference Finals is a sign of things to come, it’s possible that the NBA Bubble could produce another compelling series that will go the full distance. The Celtics started strong out of the gate, leading by double figures in the first quarter. But as they did against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the Heat came back and kept things close. Every time Boston tried to pull away, Miami always seemed to have an answer, whether it was Dragic’s 11 points in the second period or Crowder’s timely hits from beyond the arc.
Game 1 provided us with 13 lead changes and four ties, with the teams trading clutch baskets in the fourth quarter and overtime. Even the play that defined the game could have gone either way. Adebayo’s block on Tatum just as easily could have been a dunk and a poster. Just ask Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. But through strength, instinct, and great timing, he turned it into one of the best defensive plays in the playoffs the league has ever seen. That’s how close the game was, something that was also reflected on the stat sheet. The teams played each other to a draw in almost every department, with the Heat’s 32-24 advantage in assists being the only statistic that stands out.
The NBA Bubble has already gifted us with four playoff series that was decided in seven games, two of them in the first round (Rockets-Thunder and Nuggets-Jazz) and two in the Conference Semifinals (Celtics-Raptors and Nuggets-Clippers). If Miami’s heart-stopping Game 1 win over Boston is any indication, then this Eastern Conference Finals series could be the latest addition to that list, and the possible return of Gordon Hayward would only add to the drama.