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Jayson Tatum, Celtics hold off Heat, claim comfortable Game 1 win

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) celebrate the win at the end of the game. The Boston Celtics host the Miami Heat in Game One of Round One of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at TD Garden in Boston. Barry Chin/The Boston Globe

The Celtics started their postseason run with a win in Game 1 against the Miami Heat, fending off a fourth-quarter charge for a 114-94 win.

Here are the takeaways.

1. In the closing seconds, Jayson Tatum showed why it’s so crucial for the Celtics to take care of business in this first-round series.

With a minute remaining and the game all but decided, Bam Adebayo missed a short jumper off the front of the rim, and Tatum flew in for a rebound. As he jumped, Caleb Martin came flying in from the side and crashed into Tatum from behind, upending the Celtics star and sending him end over end. Tatum landed hard on his tailbone and won, but he hopped back to his feet and made his way back to the opposing free-throw line, very clearly opting to keep playing rather than make it a flashpoint in the series.

“I was waiting to see what he was going to do,” Joe Mazzulla deadpanned postgame. “I was kind of excited about the whole situation. So I enjoyed watching it.”

“I don’t know if it was an accident or not,” Kristaps Porzingis added. “Those kinds of plays happen. Little bit of action, I think it’s good during the playoffs. So that was fun.”

The play itself was probably best classified as reckless or dangerous, although Brian Scalabrine’s analysis in the postgame show on NBC Sports Boston might suggest a less favorable interpretation. For their part, Heat fans on Twitter have found a Zapruder-esque slow-motion angle to blame Jrue Holiday for pushing Martin into Tatum, which doesn’t look very plausible in real time.

A lot of really nasty things can happen when a player is bumped in the air and hits the ground hard (especially when he reaches down instinctively to catch himself), and a sore tailbone tomorrow — which appears to be Tatum’s prognosis — is a best- case scenario.

Tatum doesn’t seem to hold any hard feelings.

“Just understanding it’s playoff basketball, right?” he said. “It’s a physical game, playing against a physical team, s—’s going to happen. It’s not the last time my body will get hit like that or fouled in this series. So, I wasn’t hurt. You get hit like that, you just get up, and I knew we was in the bonus. So I knocked the free throw down.”

We’re glad Tatum is okay, but once again: The Celtics need to get through this series as quickly as possible. The Heat were a mediocre-but-playoff-bound team during the regular season, and without Jimmy Butler, Sunday’s result should be repeatable.

But a desperate, frustrated team that plays physically makes desperate, frustrated decisions, and the Celtics would do well to limit the potential to find themselves in those situations.

2. Tatum was excellent, despite a relatively inefficient shooting night — 23 points on 7-for-18 from the floor, 1-for-8 from 3-point range. He recorded his first playoff triple-double with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and his presence in the first half especially seemed to send the Heat running in circles. He drew a double-team against multiple mismatches, and his 10 assists don’t tell the entire story, since he had a number of hockey assists as well.

“It was real simple – just making the right play,” Tatum said. ‘We talk about, all the time, not getting bored with making the right play. Five minutes left, drawing two, and surround yourself with shooters.”

Mazzulla praised Tatum’s mindset.

“I thought he played with great patience, thought he picked and chose his spots very well, I thought he took what the defense gave him, and found the balance of creating for himself and for others,” Mazzulla said. “Fighting for that discipline on the offensive end, on both ends of the floor really, is a huge key to this series.”

3. The Heat made a big run in the fourth quarter, trimming a 34-point advantage as low as 15 before the Celtics regained control. The game never really felt like it was in doubt, but it did hammer home Mazzulla’s oft-repeated point that a game (or a series) is never going to go perfectly, and the best way to turn things around is to accept everything that has happened and focus on making the next right play.

“This is the playoffs against a good team. We’re not supposed to blow them out,” Tatum said. “It’s not going to be easy. No lead is necessarily safe. Don’t panic in a sense when they go on a run and hit shots. Just continue to play the right way.”

4. The Heat, as they often do, ran a zone defense at the Celtics, which they handled on two fronts.

The first front was Kristaps Porzingis, who is a fantastic zone breaker at the nail. The Heat don’t really have a player who can contest his shots in the first place, and a zone makes it difficult for the Heat to ensure that Adebayo – the only player on the team who has a chance – is around to defend him. The second was with a flurry of 3-pointers, most notably from Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard (more on them both in a second). The Celtics finished with 22 made 3-pointers, matching their franchise-high for a playoff game. Given how this team plays, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see that mark fall at some point in the next few weeks.

The Heat need everything to go right against the Celtics to win without Jimmy Butler, and if their zones don’t muck the game up satisfactorily, they will be underwater quickly.

5. The Heat also need to make their 3-pointers, which – for all the talk about toughness and #HeatCulture – was really the difference in last year’s Eastern Conference finals as well. To that end: Caleb Martin was 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point line in Game 1, while Gabe Vincent went 0-for-0 in 7:42 in his Game 1 … for the Lakers.

Adebayo had a nice offensive performance with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting, but the Celtics are more than happy to exchange his mid-range heavy attack for 3-pointers on the other end.

2024 is a new season. To quote Tatum (talking about his sprained ankle in Game 7): “I don’t think about that s— no more.”

(If you are looking for a reason to worry, Delon Wright went 5-for-5 from deep in the fourth quarter alone after making 25 all season. So there might be some Vincent/Martin potential there.)

6. Hauser missed his first two 3-pointers and appeared to struggle with the Kevin Love matchup in the post, but he caught fire and made his next four triples, three of which were a direct result of the Heat zone trying to deal with Tatum .

Hauser didn’t score in the second half, but the damage was done.

“With him, it doesn’t really seem like his downs are really that down,” Derrick White said. “Obviously he missed the first two, but great looks, and any time he shoots the ball we think it’s going in. So he’s been great for us all year and that stretch was huge for us to get the momentum back on our side. Defensively, he always competes, and he always does his job.”

7. The Celtics shortened their rotation significantly, as expected: Only Pritchard, Horford, and Hauser came off the bench. Horford and Pritchard played nearly 25 minutes each. Hauser played 13 and just five in the second half.

“The bench in general, that’s been the identity of our team all year, so you can’t get into a playoff and shut those guys out,” Mazzulla said. “You have to give them their run because they just bring a different dynamic to the game. And even some of the guys who didn’t play have to be ready. It’s only one game. A series takes on a life of its own, but we need our bench, we need our depth in order to maximize this opportunity that we have. They did a great job.”

8. Jrue Holiday finished with just six points (2-for-8 shooting), but he hounded Tyler Herro into a 4-for-13 performance (11 points). On a Heat team already desperate for offensive production, a bad Herro game might be disqualifying.

“Jrue’s ability to just stick to a game plan but at the same time use his instincts is huge for us,” Mazzulla said. “So he did a great job throughout the game of staying with him and making it difficult, and we need him to continue to do that. So he got off to a great start defensively with his effort.”

9. The Celtics aim to hold teams under 25 points in a quarter once or twice per game. The Heat scored 21, 24, and 14 in the first three quarters, respectively, before they scored 35 in the fourth.

10. The two teams will have two days off to sort through the damage. Game 2 tips off at 7 pm on Wednesday in Boston.

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