Butler scores 35, Heat rally to beat Celtics 123-116 in East finals opener

BOSTON — 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.

Wondering why

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.

The Heat are the fifth team to open with road wins in each of their first three series, joining the 2021 Hawks, 1999 Knicks, 1989 Bulls and 1981 Rockets. The Knicks were the only other No. 8 seed to make the conference finals. (AP)