Boston Celtics

May 17, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts to the loss at the end of the game against the Miami Heat in game one of the 2022 eastern conference finals at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

So these are the questions: were the Celtics just tired? Undermanned? Or was this some sort of indication of what will happen when the Miami Heat crank up the heat the way they did two years again, when any Boston chances at a championship burst in the COVID bubble?

Possessors of a 13-point lead in the first half, the Celtics nonetheless tumbled to a 118-107 defeat Tuesday night to the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. But make no mistake: this game was decided solely in the third quarter, when Miami crushed the Celtics by a 39-14 count that very much felt like the latest meeting between the Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

“They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to up their physicality and aggression on both ends, and they did that,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka astutely noted. “I don’t think we obviously responded well on either end of the floor.”

Now there’s the understatement of the century.

What the Celtics did was crater.

May 17, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) reacts after making a basket against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game one of the 2022 eastern conference finals at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

May 17, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) reacts after making a basket against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game one of the 2022 eastern conference finals at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it’s one game. Yes, the Celtics lost Game 1 to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, Boston was without two starters, Al Horford and Marcus Smart, the former to the COVID protocol and the latter to a foot injury. But if you think any of that somehow excuses what happened in the third quarter, you’re not just bleeding green. You’re smoking it.

In that quarter alone, the Celtics shot 2-of-15, including 0-of-7 from three-point distance. They committed a whopping eight turnovers, including six from Jayson Tatum, who looked like a fourth grader who had just been asked to take the SAT.

Tatum’s line for the quarter: 12 minutes, 0-for-2 from the floor, six turnovers, no assists, minus-25. If he played like that for the full game, the Celtics quite literally would have lost by 100.

May 17, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) gets blocked by Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) during the first half of game one of the 2022 eastern conference finals at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

May 17, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) gets blocked by Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) during the first half of game one of the 2022 eastern conference finals at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

  • The good news? It was one game. The Celtics don’t often lose two straight anymore. In theory, they should get Smart or Horford – or both – back. And they were coming off a tough, physical series against Milwaukee – not to mention a pulsating Game 7 victory – that screamed for a letdown, particularly when they had to travel to a rested Miami team.

    So fine.

    Game 2 is Thursday night.

    But if it happens again, we’ll be forced to wonder if the Celtics just can’t withstand the Heat.

    Jayson Tatum: “I gotta play better…”

  • Jayson Tatum: “It’s on me …”

  • Jayson Tatum: “I don’t wanna turn the ball over – [expletive] like that…”