The Boston Celtics visit the Miami Heat for Game #1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
After beating the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Celtics have just one day off to prepare to face the top seeded Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. The Heat closed out their 2nd round series against the 76ers on Thursday and have had 4 days off to rest and get ready for this series. This is the 3rd time these two teams have met in the Eastern Conference Finals. They met in 2012 and 2020 with Miami winning both of those series.
The Celtics and Heat faced each other 3 times in the regular season with the Celtics winning 2 of those games. The Celtics won 95-78 in Miami on November 4. The Celtics were missing Josh Richardson while the Heat were missing Oladipo and Strus. They met again in Boston on January 31 and the Celtics won 122-92. The Celtics were at full strength but the Heat were missing Oladipo, Lowry, Morris and Butler. Their final meeting was on March 30 at Boston and the Heat took that game 106-98. The Celtics were missing Robert Williams and the Heat were missing Caleb Martin.
The Heat are much deeper than the Bucks with 5 different leading scorers in their 11 playoff games. The Bucks leading scorer was Giannis Antetokounmpo in every game and he didn’t get much help from his surrounding cast. The Celtics have lost 2 home games to the Bucks while the Heat have won all 6 of their home games so far. This is a rematch of the Bubble Eastern Conference Finals that the Heat won 4 games to 2 so the Celtics may have a bit of revenge on their minds.
Robert Williams is no longer on the injury list and has been cleared to play with no restrictions. The Celtics can definitely use his defense to slow down Bam Adebayo. For that reason, I’m thinking that Ime goes back to the Celtics’ regular starting 5 with Robert at center and Al Horford at power forward. Marcus Smart suffered a mid-foot sprain in Game 7 against the Bucks on Sunday. He is questionable for this game and his status will be a game time decision. That would definitely be a blow to the Celtics if he can’t play as they will need all their defenders to cover the many scoring threats of the Heat.
For the Heat, Kyle Lowry is listed as out due to a hamstring injury. He missed the final two games against the Hawks in the first round and the first two games against the 76ers in the 2nd round. He played in Games 3 and 4 but was obviously not 100% and struggled in those games. He was out once again for games 5 and 6. He didn’t practice with the team on Monday. Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. He hasn’t missed a game yet but has been on the injury list for several games as questionable. He will likely start in place of Kyle Lowry once again.
Max Strus is also listed as questionable with a hamstring injury but is expected to start at shooting guard in spite of being included on this list. Caleb Martin struggled with an ankle injury in the Hawks series but is still being included on the injury list. He is also expected to play. PJ Tucker is also listed as questionable with a calf injury and is also expected to play. Whether it is gamesmanship or something else, these players have been listed as questionable several times only to have them play with no restrictions and that is expected to be the case once again.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Sam Hauser (shoulder) questionable
Marcus Smart (foot) questionable
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
Kyle Lowry (hamstring) out
Gabe Vincent (hamstring) questionable
Max Strus (hamstring) questionable
Caleb Martin (ankle) questionable
PJ Tucker (calf) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is the Heat’s best player and he has stepped up his play in the playoffs. He is averaging 28.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game in the playoffs. He is shooting 52.5% from the field and 36.4% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 22.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He shot 48.6% from the field and didn’t shoot any 3’s. Jayson will need to continue his strong play on both ends of the court for the Celtics to have a chance in this series.
Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game in the playoffs. He is shooting 59.4% from the field. He averaged 14.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals in the 3 games against the Celtics this season. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. He is also a mid range threat but not a perimeter threat as he hasn’t attempted a 3 pointer this season.
Jaylen Brown vs Max Strus
Strus began his NBA career with the Celtics but was cut in order to be able to keep Tacko Fall. He is averaging 12.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game and shooting 41.4% from the field and 35.1% from beyond the arc in the playoffs. Against Boston this season, he averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 48.3% from the field and 50% on three pointers. It would seem that he has a bit of extra motivation when playing against the team that cut him.
Derrick White vs Tyler Herro
Herro was voted the Sixth Man of the Year this season for his averages of 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 44.7% shooting from the field and 39.9% shooting from beyond the arc. He struggled a bit in the first two rounds as his averages have dropped to 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists in the playoffs so far. He is shooting 42.0% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc. He also struggled in the games against the Celtics this season, averaging 10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists and shot 30.2% from the field and 22.2% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need good play from Derrick White in this series, especially on the defensive end.
Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense is always the first and foremost key winning and even more so in the playoffs. The Heat have the second best defense in the playoffs with a defensive rating of 104.6. The Celtics are 3rd with a defensive rating of 105.2. The Celtics must make defense a priority as the Heat will definitely be playing tough defense and the Celtics must match or better their efforts on that end. The Celtics had to focus most of their effort on Giannis in the last round, but the Heat are a much more balanced team. The Heat have had 5 different leading scorers in their 11 playoff games. The Celtics will need to play tough team defense to try to limit all of the Heat players who are capable of having big games.
Rebound – As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. Teams need the ball to score and rebounding gives them extra possessions and also keeps their opponents from getting those possessions. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to grab rebounds, it usually tranlates to other areas of the game as well. The Heat are 2nd in the playoffs with 15.6 second chance points. The Celtics have to especially limit the Heat’s offensive rebounds in order to limit those extra points. The Celtics were out rebounded by the Bucks on the offensive end 76-53. The Celtics can’t afford to allow the Heat that kind of advantage on the boards.
Be Aggressive – The Celtics have to come out and be aggressive right from the opening tip. They have to be aggressive on defense, driving to the basket, rebounding, diving for loose balls and just playing harder in general. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Heat outwork them for any period of time. They have to play with confidence and play harder than the Heat on both ends of the court. Miami has won 12 of the last 13 series when they win Game 1 and they are 18-0 when they go up 2-0. The Celtics have to be aggressive right from the start and not allow the Heat to get comfortable.
Stay Focused – The Celtics have to stay focused on playing the right way. They have to focus on making crisp passes and on handling the ball and not turning it over as the Heat are 2nd with 19.7 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy with their passes or ball handling, the Heat will make them pay. They also have to focus on moving the ball and moving without the ball in order to get the best shots and they need to stay focused on making those shots. They can’t lose focus over bad calls or no calls and give the Heat an advantage while they complain to the refs.
Don’t Die By the Three – The Bucks’ defense packed the paint and allowed the Celtics a lot of open three pointers, which the Celtics took in record numbers. The Heat guard the perimeter much more aggressively and are tied with Boston and Golden State for the lowest opponent 3 point percentage at 33.9%. The Bucks don’t have as strong as interior defense as the Bucks did and so the Celtics should be able to get more points in the paint if they go there instead of shooting mostly threes.
Road Fatigue – The Celtics had just one day off after finishing a grueling 7 game series against the reigning NBA Champions. The Heat finished off the fading 76ers in 6 games on Thursday and so have had 4 days off. The Celtics also had to travel to Miami and will have all the distractions of playing away from home. They lost Game 1 against the Bucks at home after having almost a week off while the Bucks had just 3 days off. So maybe not having a long layoff isn’t so bad even though it would be nice to have some time to heal up from the physical play of the Bucks.
Coaching – Once again, coaching is likely to be an x-factor. Ime Udoka is a rookie coach with just 2 playoff series on his resume. He did a great job of coaching in both series but he will be facing some pretty serious competition in Erik Spoelstra who has a 92-61 career playoff record. This is his 6th Eastern Conference appearance and he is 6-0 in those series. Ime will have to work hard to get an advantage over Spoelstra.
Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor in every game and we saw it make a difference in Game 3 with 5 admitted incorrect calls in the last 5 minutes and a 6th that was incorrect but they didn’t admit to it. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. Some favor the home team. Some favor the road team. Some just make bad, head scratching calls. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls and no calls take them out of the game or affect their focus.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are two-point underdogs heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami. Most experts and bettors have Boston representing the East in The NBA Finals, but after just completing a physical series with the Bucks after Sunday’s Game 7 win and Miami enjoying five days of rest and playing at home, the odds tilting towards the Heat for the opener makes sense.
It’s still unclear whether or not Smart will play tonight. At shootaround this morning, Udoka said, “he’s still pretty sore. He tested it out a little bit here and we’re hoping he’s feeling better, but there’s some soreness there and swelling still and we’ll monitor him throughout the day, get his treatment, and is still listed as questionable.” The Heat have already ruled Kyle Lowry out of the opener.
Game 1’s tend to be feel-out games. The Celtics won the regular season series 2-1, but it’s hard to even use those as bellwethers for the conference finals; the November 4th meeting was a lifetime ago, the Heat had several key players sitting out of the January 31st blowout, and the March 30th loss at TD Garden could have gone either way, save for a 4th quarter Boston meltdown. Per DraftKings, the Celtics are a -185 to rep the East in The Finals and most experts have them winning in six games (a +265 bet at DK).
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
Celtics Blog https://www.celticsblog.com/2022/5/17/23081076/boston-celtics-8-3-0-0-at-miami-heat-8-3-0-0-ecf-game-1-5-17-22