Jayson Tatum sparks Celtics to win over Heat, downplays fall

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BOSTON — Celtics star Jayson Tatum was a catalyst in more ways than one in Boston’s convincing 114-94 victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

He played smart, unselfish basketball against Miami’s double-teams, logging his first career playoff triple-double with 23 points, 10 boards and 10 assists. But as the contest entered its final minute, Tatum also showed toughness, popping up off the floor immediately after getting hit by Heat wing Caleb Martin while going airborne for a rebound. The play initially scared the TD Garden crowd but galvanized the Celtics, who wanted to show they wouldn’t be pushed around by the highly physical Heat club.

“It’s playoff basketball, and it’s a physical game against a physical team. S—‘s gonna happen,” Tatum said, adding that he wanted to get up from the fall quickly to show he wasn’t hurt. “It’s probably not the last time I’m going to get hit like that in this series.”

After the game, Martin said he didn’t intentionally collide with Tatum and that his momentum simply led him into the airborne Tatum. Replays showed that Boston’s Jrue Holiday might have pushed Martin from behind in the moment before the collision. Martin sought to help Tatum up afterward, but Boston star Jaylen Brown pushed him away before he could. Martin and Brown were assessed technical fouls after exchanging words.

For as dangerous as the play initially looked, with Tatum appearing to come down on his hip — and nearly slamming his head on the hardwood — the Celtics suggested the skirmish might create a rallying effect going forward.

“I was excited about the whole situation,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I enjoyed watching it.”

Said center Kristaps Porzingis: “I think we matched [their physicality]. I don’t know if [the Martin collision] was an accident or not. Those kinds of plays happen. But a little bit of action? I think it’s good for the playoffs. It was fun.”

As far as action was concerned, the Celtics brought far more of it from the outset. Porzingis said the club — which lacked meaningful games at the end of the regular season after clinching the East’s No. 1 seed with three weeks left to play — spoke earlier in the week about not showing rust and finding a way to throw the first punch in Game 1.

“It was difficult for us to trick ourselves into maintaining this crazy mindset of winning every single regular-season game [after clinching the top seed],” Porzingis said. “But we knew we had the real one coming soon, and I’m glad we came out the way we did tonight. It sets the stage for the rest of our path.”

The message clearly got through, as the Celtics poured it on early by jumping out to a 14-0 lead before Miami scored its first points.

The Heat began settling in and clawing back, but the path to doing so was complicated by Boston’s preference for 3s when most of Miami’s shots were of the 2-point variety.

The floodgates opened in the third when the Celtics, with ball movement and ample floor spacing, drilled seven 3s and outscored the Heat by 17 in the quarter. Through three quarters of play, Boston had knocked down 19 3s to Miami’s five — a 42-point margin from behind the arc. Tatum facilitated much of the offense by letting the Heat’s zone attack pressure him with two defenders before quickly swinging the ball back across the floor to a more open shooter. Porzingis, Derrick White and reserve Sam Hauser each finished with four 3s, while Brown knocked home three of his own. The Celtics led by as much as 34 early in the fourth, and Boston fans began doing the wave inside the arena.

The first-round series between the teams — their fourth playoff meeting in five years — is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, which the Heat took despite being an eight-seed underdog.

The climb this time would be even steeper for Miami. Jimmy Butler, the team’s best wing player, injured his right MCL during the play-in round and is expected to miss several weeks. And Terry Rozier, who averaged nearly 20 points per game in the regular season, is out with a neck injury. Both are enormous blows for a Miami unit that already struggled to score at times.

“It’s clear Boston controlled this game from the tip,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They won the big muscle areas. Definitely won the 3-point line. And most of the areas in between. … We have to do a much better job by Wednesday.”

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