MIAMI — His team was down by eight at halftime, so Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went into the locker room ready to deliver a big speech.
As it turns out, one wasn’t needed.
Jimmy Butler decided to let his play do the talking.
Butler scored 27 of his 41 points in the second half, and the Heat’s huge third quarter carried them to a 118-107 win over the shorthanded Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night.
“Jimmy Butler is an elite competitor,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a lot of guys in this league that are playing basketball. He’s competing to win. That’s a totally different thing, and he does that as well as anybody in this league.”
Tyler Herro scored 18 and Gabe Vincent added 17 for the Heat, who outscored Boston 39-14 in the third quarter. Butler had 17 points in the third, outscoring the Celtics by himself over those 12 minutes.
Boston, which led by as many as 13 points in the first half, shot 2-for-15 in that third quarter.
“We won three quarters other than that, but obviously that one is going to stand out,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We semi-bounced back in the fourth and started to play well again and matched their physicality, but 39-14 on 2-for-15 is tough to overcome.
“It wasn’t anything different that they did. They just came out and imposed their will.”
Along with the 41 points, the rest of Butler’s line: nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocked shots. Since the NBA started charting all those stat categories, only five other players — Anthony Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Harden (who did it twice) — had all those numbers in a single game. None happened in a playoff game, until now.
“I continued to play basketball the right way: Shoot the ball when I’m open, attack, hit the open guy,” Butler said. “Honestly, it was a team effort.”
Max Strus scored 11 and Bam Adebayo added 10 for Miami.
Jayson Tatum scored 29 for the Celtics, who were without starters Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols).
Smart’s absence was somewhat expected because of a mid-foot sprain he suffered in Game 7 of the East semifinals against Milwaukee on Sunday.
Horford’s absence was a surprise. He entered the league’s health and safety protocols Tuesday afternoon, which could keep him out for multiple games. Game 2 is Thursday.
Jaylen Brown added 24 for Boston, which got 18 pieces from Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard.
Boston took a 62-54 lead into halftime, but Miami started the second half with a 22-2 run, punctuated by steals that led to baskets on three consecutive possessions. Strus had one, the next two by Butler pushed the lead out to 76-64, and the Heat were off and running.
“Other than the third quarter, I think we won every other quarter,” Pritchard said. “Obviously, we try not to let that happen next time.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism