LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — On the first off day of this season’s Eastern Conference finals, it might have been difficult to tell on Wednesday which team was holding the 1-0 lead in the series.
Based on what was said after practices, anyway.
“We need to play better,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“We’ll look to play better,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said.
Their sentiments Wednesday were about as close as Game 1 was on Tuesday night, when the Heat rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter and — bolstered by a game-saving block by Bam Adebayo of a Jayson Tatum dunk attempt in the final seconds of overtime — took the series opener with a 117-114 victory.
Game 2 is Thursday, when the Heat will try to improve to 10-1 in this postseason and the Celtics look to avoid an 0-2 series hole, something even a franchise with the postseason lore of Boston has only managed to do once in eight tries this deep into a postseason. Miami wasn’t thrilled in Game 1 with bad first and third quarters; Boston’s area of focus was obviously how the game got away down the stretch.
“You just have to continue to keep the task at hand,” Spoelstra said. “Obviously, this is a super-competitive series. We were down (14) and it was for a reason. I mentioned that after the game, they were playing well, getting us out of what we typically do. It’s high-level competition and you can expect a big-time response from them.”
Not surprisingly, of course, that is what Boston is seeking in Game 2.
The Celtics let the Heat be the aggressors in the final 16 minutes of the series opener, getting outscored 46-29 in that game-ending span as Miami shot 65% from the field to Boston’s 38%. Miami also took 17 free throws to the Celtics’ five.
“I think we’ve got a lot of improvements to make on defense,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. “I think we’ll make them” on Thursday.
Adebayo’s play at the rim notwithstanding, the Heat also saw improvements they could make.
But his play is still one that Miami is marveling about.
Adebayo said Wednesday that the coolest feedback he got on the play was a tweet from Magic Johnson, who called the block “the best defensive play I’ve seen ever in the playoffs!!!!”
Dwyane Wade reached out with a text as well, as he has at many times in these playoffs, and Heat President Pat Riley told Adebayo that he would make sure the play gets immortalized — as most other top plays in team history have — with a giant image slapped on a wall of the team’s complex back in Miami.
“Bam is a great player,” Brown said. “Really carved out a space for himself in this league. Bam is set up for how the league is moving forward: big, athletic, can do multiple things. I just tip my cap to the play he made.”
Added Heat guard Duncan Robinson: “I had to watch it again and again to almost like just capture how special of a play it was. But you know, he’s done that all year in different ways. Maybe not to that grandiose scale of as time is basically expiring, saving a possession like that. But he’s done it for us game-in, game-out, every night. … Freakish. It’s incredible.”
Before Tuesday, the Celtics were 29-6 this season when scoring at least 114 points. But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, Boston has dropped four of its last six games.
And like most coaches, Stevens doesn’t spend a lot of time lamenting about offense — his top priority Wednesday, as it has been at many other times in these playoffs, was shoring up Boston’s transition defense.
“None of the stuff you’ve lived in the past matters,” Stevens said. “None of the stuff that you dream of in the future matters. It’s just about what you need to do on this possession right now, and I know that sounds cliché, but that’s really the only way to go through these things.”
NOTES: Celtics G Kemba Walker has shot below 20% from 3-point range in each of his last five games, something he hasn’t done since 2009 — when he was a freshman at UConn. Walker is 5 for 34 from beyond the arc in those five games. … Boston upgraded F Gordon Hayward (ankle) to doubtful. He hasn’t played in four weeks. … Heat forward Jimmy Butler and Tatum were announced Wednesday as All-NBA selections, both making the third team.
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