There was a floater toward the end of regulation, and in overtime, a big 3-pointer and clutch step-back jumper to take the lead. But aside from that, Kemba Walker had a quiet game as the Boston Celtics fell 117-114 to the Miami Heat in a thrilling Game 1 on Tuesday.
And despite the important plays down the stretch, Walker can’t go 6-for-19 from the field (and 1-for-9 from beyond the arc) if the Celtics are going to have any hope at advancing to the NBA Finals.
He finished the game with 19 points and six assists, but also had three turnovers in addition to his ice-cold shooting through most of the game.
But he’ll be the first to tell you that he also isn’t satisfied with how he’s been playing.
“I’m just playing terrible, to be honest,” Walker said, via NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “Not much I can say but I just have to be better for this team on both ends of the floor. I have to make better decisions. I’ve just got to make shots.”
The poor shooting unfortunately has become a trend that’s been overlooked by the intangibles Walker brings to the court and the locker room.
Exhibit B: (this was tweeted out at halftime, before Walker got into somewhat of a rhythm, but still.)
Brad Stevens didn’t feed into the issue when asked about Walker’s slump postgame, and instead diverted attention to what the team could be doing better as a whole.
Fortunately, Walker did hit some clutch shots toward the end, so hopefully that’s a sign that he’ll shake this off and re-emerge as the player he’s capable of being.
After all, he’s never been here before.
Here are some other notes from the Celtics’ Game 1 loss:
— The Celtics led by 12 points entering the final quarter, and extended that lead to as many as 13 during the fourth. Obviously, they didn’t maintain that.
Sure, Boston perhaps was a shot or two away from the victory. And that Bam Adebayo block on Tatum’s last possession of the game was ridiculous. But the bottom line is that some brutal offensive possessions down the stretch, littered with isolation ball, allowed the Heat to keep things neck-and-neck and eventually close out the game.
And the Celtics didn’t help themselves getting back on defense after those missed attempts and turnovers.
“Transition defense really stands out,” Stevens said, via NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “That Hero three with a minute left in regulation was a killer, but there were multiple other plays leading up to that play that let them back in it.”
And when Daniel Theis fouled out of the game things got harder, with the Heat so good at switching to create mismatches on defense and force the Celtics into isolation on offense.
“I think obviously switching has to do with it but we need to handle it better, there’s no question about it,” Stevens said. “Not only was there probably too much pounding of the ball, it was also not as much space the way that they were guarding. So we need to do a better job of that.”
The final Boston possession of regulation told a lot of the story, with the Celtics not moving the ball well and Tatum missing a 3-pointer that would have won the game. To be fair, Tatum typically is exceptional at 1-on-1 isolation ball, but this shot simply didn’t fall.
And Stevens isn’t mad at him for taking the shot.
“I trust that he’ll make the right decision,” Stevens said of Tatum. “He’s a hell of a player and when he has the ball I feel good about it.”
— There are so many ways this game could have ended, but free throws stand out.
The Celtics got into the penalty early. And with Theis fouling out of the game, dealing with the Heat in the paint was a tall task. It also meant having to switch Jaylen Brown on Adebayo creating a number of matchups that favored Miami.
And thus, the Heat were able to take 12 of their 18 free throws in the fourth quarter.
— Despite all the shortcomings, this game always was in reach for Boston. Especially considering how up-and-down Miami was offensively.
Miami shot just 27.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in the first. It was its lowest scoring first quarter of the postseason, and Butler was held to just two points thanks to Boston’s relentless first-frame defense.
In the second, it was a much different story. The Heat shot 68.2 percent from the field and 75 percent from three, for their best offensive quarter of the playoffs.
Strangely, they followed that second frame up by scoring just 16 points in the third. Weird.
— Now, the good.
Tatum recorded his fifth straight double-double, and he’s now only the third player in NBA history to score at least 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in three consecutive playoff games.
And with his six 3-pointers in Game 1, Marcus Smart has hit at least five triples in four of his last eighth games. He’s only done that once before, per Taylor Snow of Celtics.com.
Finally, Brad Wanamaker had five (!!!!!!) steals on Tuesday to go along with 11 points, six assists and three rebounds off the bench. He played arguably his best game as a Celtic on both sides of the ball, and was a major bright spot in an otherwise frustrating game.
Twitter loved every second of Wanamaker’s performance, too.
— With Game 1 in the books, both teams will get a day of preparation before Game 2 on Thursday, Sept. 17. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.