Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat was a tale of two halves. The Celtics, led by 21 first-half points from Jayson Tatum, raced out to a 62-54 lead at halftime that felt like it should have been bigger. The Heat proceeded to open the second half with a 22-2 run that turned an eight-point deficit into a 12-point lead. Miami led the rest of the way despite some runs from Boston to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Boston struggled with the increase in intensity from Miami to start the second half, as they went through an ugly stretch where they just continually turned the ball over to the Heat, leading to easy buckets for them. The C's overcame that in the fourth quarter and made the game look a little closer than it was. So while losing the third quarter 39-14 is a significant concern, it's not the biggest issue Boston has right now.
The biggest issue for Boston is that they were forced to play Game 1 without two of their starters in Marcus Smart and Al Horford, and it might have cost them the game. On the other hand, Miami was without their starting point guard, Kyle Lowry, but they overcame that thanks to a tremendous outing from Gabe Vincent. The team that overcame their health issues won the first game, and that could be a recurring theme throughout this series.
The Boston Celtics struggled to cope with the absences of Marcus Smart and Al Horford
There are a couple of big reasons Boston missing Smart and Horford was huge in the game's outcome. For starters, their on-court production is second to none on Boston's roster. Jimmy Butler torched the Celtics guard combo of Derrick White and Payton Pritchard all night long. If Smart is playing, he's guarding Butler most of the time. Bam Adebayo was quiet offensively, but he did whatever he wanted on defense since he didn't have to worry about Horford at the perimeter, and he finished the game with four blocks.
Not only are Smart and Horford good at basketball, but the players replacing them aren't nearly as good as they are. Horford's absence thrust Daniel Theis back into the rotation, and while he held his own, he was a team-worst -16 in his 20 minutes of action. Pritchard had to play 30 minutes since Smart was out and White was doing nothing on both ends of the court, and while he was a big help on offense, Miami quickly took advantage of him on the other end of the court.
Even Aaron Nesmith, who had played only seven minutes in the postseason before Game 1, came in for 11 minutes, and while he somehow had three blocks, Nesmith badly missed all three of his shots. Boston was forced to close the game out with a lineup of White, Pritchard, Theis, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown due to injuries and foul trouble. That lineup isn't going to win many playoff games.
The Miami Heat have overcome their health issues all playoffs long and did so again in Game 1
On the other hand, Miami has spent most of the postseason without Lowry, and it hasn't hurt them very much so far. Vincent has stepped into the starting lineup and been great, and Game 1 was no exception. He finished with 17 points and 3 blocks on defense. P.J. Tucker also looked like he would have to leave the game after heading to the locker room late in the second quarter, but he came back out in the second half and helped lock up Tatum for the rest of the game.
The Heat overcame their health issues in Game 1, and they may have to for the rest of the series if they want to win, as Lowry's status remains up in the air. And while they may have the upper hand if Smart and Horford continue to miss time, the scales would flip back in Boston's favor if they were able to return.
Miami has the depth to overcome a long-term loss to Lowry, but Boston doesn't have the depth to overcome losing two of their starters. Boston proved in the first half that even without Horford and Smart, they could outplay the Heat as long as they don't go out and wet the bed as they did in the third quarter of Game 1, but it's unknown whether or not that will lead to wins. It's not a stretch to say that the healthier team will win this series, and that has to be a frightening proposition for both sides.