Opener not an indication
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Miami got the drop on Boston in Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference Finals at the Florida bubble yesterday (Manila time) but the hair-raising 117-114 overtime win is no indication as to how the series will end. Openers aren’t reliable trend-setters, at least not in this year’s playoffs.

Milwaukee lost the opener of its series to Orlando then won four in a row. The Los Angeles Lakers were bushwhacked in Game 1, not once but twice in the bubble – first by Portland then by Houston. But like the Bucks who bounced back to take the Magic out of Orlando, the Lakers regrouped to dispose of the Trail Blazers and Rockets in four straight contests. Will Boston do the same thing to Miami or will the Heat hold on to scorch the Celtics?

In yesterday’s Game 1, Miami was down by a point when Jimmy Butler completed a three-point play with 12 seconds left in OT. Bam Adebayo foiled Jayson Tatum’s dunk to preserve the lead then nailed a free throw to close out the scoring. Miami’s depth made the difference with rookie Tyler Herro compiling a near triple double (12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) and Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler scoring at least 20 apiece. Then, Bam delivered 18 points, six rebounds and nine assists to dominate Boston’s weak link in the middle Daniel Theis who had four points, four rebounds and three assists in 35:37 minutes before fouling out. 

Tatum carried the torch for Boston with 30 points but when it came to winning time, he disappeared. In OT, he was held to two free throws and missed all four attempts from the floor. Butler, on the other hand, lived up to his reputation as a go-to closer. He knocked down a triple to put Miami on top, 106-105, with 22 ticks to go in regulation and Tatum hit a free throw to send it to OT. Butler put in the marginal points in extension for Miami.

The Heat crushed the Celts in paint points, 48-26 and had more rebounds, 41-37. Miami shot just one more triple so it was scoring in the interior that led to the win. Things may not be the same in Game 2 if Gordon Hayward is back in harness for Boston. Miami is now 9-1 in the playoffs and three wins away from booking a ticket to the Finals.

Butler’s addition to the Heat roster was heaven-sent after Dwayne Wade retired. He turned 31 last Monday and celebrated his birthday a little late with the big win in Game 1. Butler played for Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia before Heat president Pat Riley brought him in as Wade’s heir. “Jimmy’s leadership, tenacity, professionalism, defensive disposition and his ability to create his own shot will improve our roster immediately,” said Riley after signing the veteran to a four-year $140.7 Million contract in July last year. His salary comes out to $32.7 Million this season and will escalate to $37.7 Million in 2022-23. It was Wade who persuaded Butler to move to the Heat. “He (Wade) has always said how nice Miami was,” said Butler. “He would always say, ‘It would be a place for you…the type of guy you are, the mentality you have, the Heat culture…it just fits.”

While the Eastern Conference war is raging, the Lakers begin their battle against Denver in the Western Conference Finals on Saturday (Manila time). The Nuggets are the playoffs’ Cinderella team, becoming the first team ever to recover from back-to-back 1-3 deficits to win both series. Lindy’s Pro Basketball editors, however, weren’t surprised as they picked Denver to go all the way before the season even began. Street and Smith’s has bombed out in its preseason prediction of Milwaukee beating the L. A. Clippers in the Finals as both teams are gone. Sports Illustrated has also been proved wrong with its forecast of the Clippers over the Bucks in the Finals. It just goes to show how unpredictable the NBA playoffs can be in the bubble.

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