Jimmy Butler has a 41-point lead over the Celtics in Game One

The Miami Heat snatched the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals from the Boston Celtics in the third quarter.

Jimmy Butler scored 27 of 41 points after the break, and Miami’s defense closed the Boston team to turn the eight-point difference in the first half to a 17-point lead by the end of the third quarter in a 118-107 victory.

The Celtics lost Al Horford to health and safety protocols in the hours leading up to the start of the series and Marcus Smart was ruled out with a right midfoot sprain he suffered in Game 7 of the second-round series. Whether they ran out of gas two days after their uphill battle with the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks or succumbed to the brutality of Miami, the Celtics collapsed after the break and never recovered.

The Heat, who also fought the absence of Kyle Lowry (hamstring), found the scoring from Tyler Hero (18 points, eight rebounds), Gabi Vincent (17 points) and Max Strauss (11 points). Their defense altered the course of the match that nearly eluded them, collecting 12 blocks and forcing 16 turns (turning into 19 points).

The Celtics also lost their third heart, Robert Williams, six minutes before the end of the match. He suffered from spasms in his left leg, which also required meniscus surgery in March and suffered a bone bruise against Bucks. Missing the last four games of the conference semi-finals, Williams returned to the starting line-up against the Heat and cemented a slower Miami defense early on, making Boston an 18-9 start.

Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler scored his fifth 40-point playoff game in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. (Michael Reeves/Getty Images)

Hero, the sixth man of the year, sealed the Heat’s offense, racking up seven of his points and three assists in the first quarter to withstand Boston’s early attack and keep their deficit respectable, 28-25.

Jason Tatum scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half, when the Celtics led by 13 points and 62-54 in the first half. But Miami never gave up. Butler and Pam Adebayo combined seven points in the 10-1 run to start the second half, giving the Heat their first lead since their 16-second lead in the first quarter.

Butler inspired a stifling defensive effort after Boston fired 59% from the field in the first half. Two consecutive steals led to four out of 11 points during Miami’s 22-2 start through the third quarter. The Celtics trailed, 76-64. When the third quarter ended, Boston had only eight turnovers and two field goals in 15 attempts.

The Heat’s lead came to 96-76 on Herro’s three free throws to start the fourth quarter. Boston is lost. Jaylen Brown couldn’t find any cracks in defense, and the Celtics were counting on Payton Pritchard, Daniel Theis and Aaron Nesmith on the bench – three players on the fringes of their healthy rotation.

The Celtics came back to scratch within nine points with seven minutes remaining and 114-107 after just two minutes, but Butler and Heat have an answer for every run. His collection from Pritchard shattered Boston’s last hope, and his last-minute departure gave him his fifth 40-point game in his playoff career and third of the year.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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