In a raucous Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat walked away with the first tally struck in the win column of the best-of-seven series.
Boston opened up shooting the lights out, taking a 62-54 halftime lead. Jayson Tatum was firing on all cylinders. Robert Williams III was cultivating a no-fly zone with his verticality. Derrick White had Max Strus running circles trying to get open.
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, it was a different story. The Heat cracked off a 22-2 run to start the third quarter. Butler finished the game with 41 points, and his physical drives battered the Celtics, particularly with Payton Pritchard seeing the court as much as he did due to Marcus Smart's injury. Butler's prowess is the main story last night, but as you can hear multiple times a week on The Dunker Spot (They just had JJ Redick on, go listen!), good offenses require multiple pressure points — especially against a defense as good as Boston's.
Tyler Herro had it going off the bench last night and was a bastion for Miami's first-half offense. Victor Oladipo crafted some solid looks out of ball screens, but the finishing wasn't there.
And then, there was Gabe Vincent, who was exceptional in finding his groove in the first half as a tough shot-maker in pick-and-roll situations and off of screens. He also found his teammates well as a second-side operator in the offense.
Vincent finished with a +23 Tuesday night, second in the game only to Butler (+25), and while single-game plus-minus is a finicky metric at times, it was indicative of Miami's play. The best minutes the Heat put forth were with the duo on-court and working in tandem. After a stellar regular season that saw Vincent start 27 games, he struggled a great deal across the first two series from the floor, shooting 27.7% from three and registering a 49.5% True Shooting percentage; a far cry from his regular-season play.
17 points, 3 assists and gritty defense made for a grand return to form for Vincent in the series opener, and a return greatly needed for a Heat team still missing Kyle Lowry.
Vincent's first basket encapsulated much of what was essential in his Game 1; extremely tough and well-defended, and Butler screening (more on that later).
Ripping off a quick double drag with Butler rolling and PJ Tucker popping, Vincent gets a step or two on Jaylen Brown due to a crunching Tucker screen. Robert Williams III is lurking, already having rejected a similar play from Vincent in an empty side pick-and-roll with Tucker earlier in the first quarter.
Vincent goes up and Williams III magnetizes to the ball, but Vincent adjusts mid-air and gets a remarkable high-glass finish to fall.
With his only second-quarter shot attempt midway through the frame, Gabe hit a relocation three to draw Miami back within single digits.
Shout out to Caleb Martin for the impromptu screen and calling for Vincent to move and open himself up for the Butler outlet. With how this game was going for Boston early, enough can't be said for how huge this possession was at the time and in retrospect.
Early in the third quarter, there were two huge back-to-back plays by Vincent that kick-started the Heat offense. First, a huge deep self-created three to bail out a stifled possession. To say it felt back-breaking in the moment seems egregious, but just watching that game live, it was like, "WOAH, okay this is happening. The Heat are here."
There's going to be, and already has been, criticism for Tatum's defense here, but I'm not sure what else you're supposed to do. Play too tight, and Vincent is going for a drawn foul. Tatum looks at the shot clock momentarily and that's right when Vincent rises and fires. Huge shot, huge play; here comes the avalanche (Miamalanche???).
Off another stifled Boston possession, Vincent comes down with a high pick from Bam Adebayo, and tries a pull-up three with about 5.5 seconds off the shot clock. He misses, but the impact is sizable. Boston's defense isn't that set, and it's scrambling to be ready earlier. Butler does his ghostly ninja cut to catch Brown off guard as soon as the shot goes up and seals Jaylen, and the offensive rebound falls right into Butler's lap. Putback, Miami lead.
Here's where the fun wrinkle mentioned earlier starts to come in. Jimmy Butler: Super-screener.
Butler was utilized as a screener for much of the game by the Heat, partially to limit how often he was strictly spacing, but also to get him going towards the rim. With how Vincent started to gun from deep and operate as a handler late second and early third, the combining of pressure points was vital in tearing open the gap and bending the Boston defense in cruel ways.
Three Vincent-Butler pick-and-roll possessions, three fouls drawn! That's pretty good!
Miami did everything they could to put Pritchard through the ringer. Case in point: This Butler-Vincent dribble handoff.
Make Pritchard run, get Vincent a half-step, make Tatum think and make a decision with the clear-out. Vincent touches the paint and kicks to Tucker. "BANG!"
Vincent's icing on the cake was this sideline out-of-bounds play.
Another Butler screen in a quick Chicago action for Vincent. White was legitimately everywhere defensively last night, and yet, he just was rendered null and void by Vincent here. That's a nutty shot regardless of who you are; east/west movement, late clock, pull-up going towards the sideline.
While it would be unreasonable to expect Gabe Vincent to replicate this performance for an entire series, the way he was able to play off of Butler and add in his own wrinkles to the offense as a shot-maker was vital in taking an early series lead.
It was an awesome game from a former undrafted player who continues to ratchet up his play and appears even closer to becoming a future starter in the NBA.