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BOSTON (AP) — The Miami Heat were in need of a calming presence following a sluggish start to their latest conference finals showdown with the Boston Celtics.
Jimmy Butler provided that and a lot more.
Butler scored 35 points, including 20 after halftime, and the Heat rallied in the second half to beat the Celtics 123-116 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
He said his teammates have given him confidence.
“I’m playing at an incredible level because they are allowing me to do so,” Butler said. “They are not putting a limit on my game. They are trusting me with the ball, on the defensive end. I think that’s what any basketball player wants.”
Miami trailed by nine at the half before turning it around with a franchise playoff-record 46 points in the third and outscoring Boston 66-50 over the final two quarters. It was Butler’s fifth game with 30 or more points this postseason and he added seven assists, six steals and five rebounds.
“One of the premier two-way basketball players of this association. … That’s what we needed.” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Down the stretch Jimmy was able to do everything we needed – as a scorer and as a facilitator.”
Bam Adebayo added 20 points and eight rebounds. Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus all added 15 points apiece. The Heat went 16 of 31 from the 3-point line.
The No. 8-seeded Heat have opened all three playoff series with road victories. Game 2 is Friday in Boston.
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points, but didn’t take a shot in the fourth quarter. Jaylen Brown finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon added 19 points.
Boston is just 4-4 at home during this postseason.
“I don’t know why,” Tatum said of their home struggles. “You’ve still got to play the game, you’ve got to make plays, regardless of whether you’re home or away.”
The Celtics, who are at their best when they’re defending and getting up more shots than their opponents, were 10 of 29 from beyond the arc.
“We lost our offensive purpose,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said.
The tip-off of the series marked the third time in four seasons that the Heat and Celtics have met in this round. Boston won last year’s matchup in seven games.
Wednesday’s opener felt every bit like a continuation of that most recent meeting. Boston dominated inside early on and led by nine at halftime.
Spoelstra said his team was “more intentional” over the final 24 minutes.
Miami took a page out of the Celtics’ book and used a 13-1 run to quickly erase that gap, tying the game at 78 in the third quarter. During the next timeout Mazzulla was captured by broadcast cameras throwing a clipboard in frustration.
Boston couldn’t stop the onslaught and Miami then nudged back in front as Butler penetrated to create opportunities for his teammates.
The Heat outscored the Celtics 46-25 in the period and took a 103-91 lead into the fourth, prompting a few boos from the TD Garden crowd.
Boston responded, scoring the first seven points of the final period before a 3-pointer by Vincent ended the run.
Miami led 114-109 with just over three minutes to play when Brogdon was fouled by Butler. But he connected on just 1 of the 2 free throws. Butler was trapped on the next Miami possession before finding Martin for a corner 3.
Tatum travelled, giving the ball back to the Heat. A Miami miss gave the ball back to Boston, but Tatum was called again for travelling.
Miami wound the shot clock down before getting a 3-pointer by Butler to rattle in with 1:03 remaining.
But everything changed in the second half.
“We are just playing really good basketball,” Butler said. “More than anything, we are staying together through the good and through the bad.” By KYLE HIGHTOWER AP Sports Writer