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Celtics look to close out series against the Heat with a win

Celtics and Heat meet for the third and final time this season with the series tied 1-1.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics return home after a successful 2 game road trip to host the Miami Heat. This is the third and final game between these two teams this season. The Celtics won 96-90 when they met on October 28 in Miami and they lost 104-98 when they again played in Miami on November 22. This is the earliest that these two teams have ever wrapped up their series.

The Celtics are looking for their third straight win. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are 13-3 at home. The Heat are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 9-8 on the road. They are looking to get back on track after losing their last game to the Atlanta Hawks 110-104.

The Celtics will honor former Celtic, Kelly Olynyk tonight with the Hero Among Us award for his work in the community during his time in Boston. This is Kelly's first time back to the Garden since signing with the heat. Also making his first return is Jordan Mickey who played in only 41 games for the Celtics during his two years with the team. He is getting an opportunity to play more minutes with all of the injuries on the Heat. He is averaging 8.7 points and 7.3 rebounds over his last 3 games.

The Heat have been hampered with injuries in recent games. Hassan Whiteside is out once again with a sore knee. He missed the Heat's loss in the first game but did play in their win in the second game. James Johnson (ankle), Rodney McGruder (tibia), Okaro White (foot) are also out for this game. Justise Winslow is also out with an ankle injury.

Goran Dragic is listed as doubtful with a sore elbow, but he has stated that he is going to try to play. The Heat have called up two-way player, Matt Williams from the G-League. For the Celtics, Daniel Theis had his nose rebroken on Tuesday and is listed as questionable. Marcus Morris (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) remain out.

The Celtics are just 2.5 games up on the Cavaliers who continue to play very well in spite of their loss to the Bucks on Tuesday. The Raptors are just 3.5 games back of the Celtics. The Heat have slipped to 1 game out of playoff contention. With their series tied at 1 game each, this game will give bragging rights to the winner between these two rivals.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Guerschon Yabusele
Terry Rozier
Marcus Smart

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (nose) questionable
Marcus Morris (knee) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Heat Starters

Miami Reserves
Wayne Ellington
Udonis Haslem
Tyler Johnson
AJ Hammons
Jordan Mickey
Matt Williams, Jr

Injuries
Rodney McGruder (tibia) out
Okaro White (foot) out
Hassan Whiteside (knee) out
James Johnson (ankle) out
Justise Winslow (knee) out
Goran Dragic (elbow) doubtful

Two Way Players
Derrick Walton, Jr

Coach
Erik Spoelstra

Key Matchups

Kyrie Irving vs Goran Dragic
Dragic is averaging 16.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. He scored 27 points in each of their last two meetings. Kyrie will need to make him work for his points and also make him work on defense. Dragic is listed as doubtful with a sore elbow but he has said that he plans to try to play, possibly because the Heat seems to be running out of players.

Jaylen Brown vs Dion Waiters
Waiters is averaging 14.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists and he is capable of having a big game if not kept in check. Jaylen is coming off a game where he was hampered with foul trouble and will need to defend Waiters well without getting into foul trouble in this game as the Celtics need him out there.

Honorable Mention
Al Horford vs Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk is averaging 9.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Al has had experience guarding Kelly in practice, and vice versa. Hopefully Al can can keep Kelly from having a big game from the perimeter and on the other end, make Kelly work on defense.

Keys to the Game
Defense
Defense wins games. The Celtics still have the best defense in the league but they have let it slip in recent games, whether because of their brutal schedule or they just aren't working as hard. The Celtics are still tops in the league allowing 98.5 points per game while the Heat are allowing 102.2 points per game. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority and concentrate on keeping the Heat's offense off balance.
Rebound
The Heat are averaging 41.0 rebounds per game while the Celtics are averaging 44.1 rebounds per game. Crashing the boards will give the Celtics extra possessions as well as keeping the Heat from getting fast breaks and second chance points. As with the defense, the Celtics have been slipping on the boards recently. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to outwork the Heat on the boards.
Be Aggressive
The Celtics have to be aggressive in going to the basket and not settle for jumpers, especially if the jumpers aren't falling. They have to dive for loose balls and be aggressive in crashing the boards. They can't afford to slack off or to allow the Heat to play harder than them. They have to be the team that wants it more.

Play 48 Minutes The Celtics have been in the habit of playing well just half of the game. They either fall behind by double digits and then have to play extra hard to get back into the game or they get a big lead and then pretty much stop playing to allow their opponents back into the game (see Pacers, Indiana). They need to play hard on both ends of the court from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Trap Game
The Heat are without several key players and so the Celtics could underestimate them and expect an easy win. That is always a recipe for disaster (see Bulls, Chicago). The Celtics need to come out with the mindset that they are playing the Warriors and play that way throughout the game. They can't afford to take the Heat for granted because a wounded animal tends to fight harder

X-Factors
Home Game - The Celtics are back at home after two road games. The Celtics have been playing well at home with a record of 13-3. They need to continue to draw energy from the home crowd and make it difficult for other teams to win at the Garden.

Revenge Factor - There are revenge factors on both sides of this game. The series is tied at 1 game each so the winner of this game wins the series. Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Mickey will want to beat their former team and both teams will be motivated to avenge the earlier loss. Also, the Heat win ended the Celtics 16 game win streak and they certainly will want to get back at the Heat for that.

Fatigue Factor - The Celtics are in the midst of a very tough stretch of games. This is their 8th game in 13 days with 5 of those games on the road. They have had 2 sets of back to back games and two sets of 3 games in 4 nights. This is yet again the first of back to back games. The players have not had any chance to practice and they may be getting fatigued. On the other hand, both teams are missing key players with the Heat more short handed than the Celtics. That puts extra work on the remaining players. Fatigue may be a factor for both teams.