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Three takeaways from relentless Butler, Heat taking Game 1 from Celtics

Siobhan Beslow joins Natalie and Zena Keita to debate whether or not playoff Jimmy Butler can be stopped, and if so, what the Celtics can do on defense to achieve it.

For the third straight series, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat went on the road, played with force and determination, and shocked the NBA with a Game 1 upset win.

For the roughly 3,647th time this season, the Boston Celtics lost their edge.

It came together when Miami dominated the third quarter — winning it 46-25 — and held on for the 123-116 win. Game 2 takes place Friday night in Boston, where the pressure will be on the Celtics.

Here are three takeaways from Game 1.

1) The Heat’s execution is relentless. The Celtics’ is not.

This Miami win was more mental than physical.

Miami wears teams down because they do not stop playing hard and executing. Ever. They just keep coming. And if their opponent lets up — even for one quarter — that will cost them the game. That’s what happened on Wednesday night in Boston, the Heat kept relentlessly playing their game and executing, and the Celtics could not match that focus and intensity.

“We came out to cool, it was just almost like we were just playing a regular season game,” the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown said of the third quarter. “It’s the Eastern Conference Finals, like, come on.”

This attitude from the Celtics is nothing new.

“We get tired of doing the little things sometimes,” Marcus Smart said of why Boston has these stretches and games where they are flat.

This lack of execution and focus by the Celtics is not on coach Joe Mazzulla, this roster did it last season under Ime Udoka (even if it feels like those stretches were shorter last season). If the Heat and their relentlessness reflects Jimmy Butler — and it does — what do the ugly patches say about the Celtics’ locker room leadership?

Mazzulla doesn’t get off blameless here. He continues to keep Grant Williams glued to his bench in matchups where he might help. Mazzulla also didn’t call one timeout during the Heat’s third quarter push (there was a television timeout in that stretch). Mazzulla has been slow to call a timeout all season long when the Celtics are in trouble because he wants them to work through it. That’s not a bad strategy. Phil Jackson legendarily would not call timeouts and make his Bulls and Lakers teams learn to play through adversity — during the regular season. Come the playoffs, where the value of possessions is exponentially higher, Jackson would call timeouts. As Bill Simmons noted, when the Celtics started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run, it took less than 100 seconds for Erik Spoelstra to call a timeout.

Not that timeouts are magical things that solve all problems, but it allows a team a second to gather themselves and focus. Boston didn’t lose Game 1 because of a lack of timeouts, but it could have helped.

2) Miami’s shotmaking was insanely good

This felt like deja vu. Like we lived through a Game 1 like this a couple of weeks ago when the Heat played the Bucks. A game when the Heat’s shotmaking was otherworldly — they just couldn’t miss.

Miami shot 16-of-31 from 3 (51.6%). They shot 10-of-15 on midrange jumpers (between the paint and the arc).

Jimmy Butler led the way with another incredible performance scoring 35 while playing elite defense and getting six steals. Butler thrives against heavy switching teams like the Celtics because he can get the matchup he wants, but Boston threw everything at him — different defenders, collapsing with double teams on his drives and clogging the paint — it just didn’t matter.

The Heat pushed the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago because of their depth, but with Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro out this time around, it was fair to ask if Miami’s depth would hold up.

In Game 1, Miami tied an NBA record with six players scoring at least 15 points in a playoff game: Butler (35), Bam Adebayo (20), Max Strus (15), Gabe Vincent (15), Kyle Lowry (15) and Caleb Martin (15).

Coach Erik Spoelstra leans into what works — he didn’t play anyone outside those six for more than 10 minutes.

3) Boston did find some things that worked, things to build upon

There were positives — and clear adjustments that have promise — for Boston to take into Game 2. Plus, they know they can come back — remember last series when James Harden dropped 45 in a Game 1 without Joel Embiid? Boston is still standing.

The Celtics can get inside on this Heat team and scored 62 points in the paint on 66% shooting. The first half was the best passing half of Marcus Smart’s career and he had 10 assists at the break.

Jayson Tatum did score 30 and Jaylen Brown 22.

Also, Boston just has to take better care of the ball, the 10 second-half turnovers — three by Tatum in the final four minutes — were killers.

Mazzulla understandably started the two bigs lineup – with Robert Williams and Al Horford — in this game, it’s a strong defensive lineup that helped them come back against Philadelphia. However, those starters were -10 in just under nine minutes together on the court in Game 1.

Things looked better with the smaller lineup and Derrick White in for Williams with the starters. However, it looked best when Malcolm Brogdon was in with the starters — +11 in 12 minutes of play. Mazzulla was reluctant to switch to the two bigs lineup that worked against Philadelphia, he can’t be hesitant to switch out of it in this series — Miami isn’t going to fall apart. Boston is going to have to beat them.

Which goes back to the mental toughness and relentlessness mentioned before. The Celtics have to match the Heat in that category in Game 2. They didn’t in Game 1 and find themselves in a hole.