It is down to the final stretch of the season. Everyone is just ready for playoff basketball to start. However, these final games still mean a great deal for teams either fighting for the playoffs or finalizing their playoff seed.
Tonight, the Miami Heat will be fighting for their playoff life as they currently sit in the 8-seed right now, only .5 game up on the Orlando Magic. The Celtics still need to sure up their homecourt advantage in the first round. They are currently tied with the Pacers for the 4-seed, but Boston holds the tiebreaker over them. As Al Horford commented on earlier in the week, that homecourt against the Pacers means a lot to the team. They will not be taking their foot off the gas coming into the playoffs. That is why tonight’s matchup will be two teams fighting for playoff implications.
As we just saw two nights ago, these two teams faced off in Boston where the Celtics won 110-105. The game was consistently in the Celtics favor until a little fourth quarter run made the game a little too close for comfort. It was a Kyrie Irving 25-point performance and an and-one with about a minute left in the game to close this one out for the Celtics. The Heat had no answers for Kyrie for most of this game. Al Horford logged a triple double with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Celtics need to continue the success from Monday night and bring it down to South Beach.
In this game for the Heat, Goran Dragic led the cause with a game high 30 points. It was a point-guard duel that made for an entertaining fourth quarter as he and Dwayne Wade were trading buckets in an attempt at a fourth quarter comeback. The Celtics need to shut down this team early in order to silence their crowd from getting into this one. With only a few games left of Wade’s career, he could be looking to show out against his final matchup against the Celtics.
The key for the Celtics tonight is to exploit the Kyrie Irving vs. Goran Dragic matchup as much as possible. As mentioned before, the Heat had zero answer to Kyrie getting where he wanted and scoring most of Monday night. Dragic is still coming back from a nagging injury and is already up there in age. He definitely is not the ideal guard you want against Kyrie. Also, with Josh Richardson still injured, the Heat do not have any defenders to put around the perimeter. The Celtics should take advantage of this and look for Kyrie to have himself another great night.
Another point to watch for in this game will be the depth issues for each team. The Celtics will be without Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown for this one. Morris has a knee injury which he is being precautionary with and Jaylen Brown had a back spasm which will keep him out of action. The call will then go to Gordon Hayward to carry this bench unit as his minutes will be a bit up tonight.
The Heat are also struggling in the injury category. Derrick Jones Jr. started the game Monday night but has taken out after bumping knees and has been ruled out for tonight’s game. This will now test the availability of Rodney McGruder who is questionable with a thigh injury. If neither of these wings can go, look for a minutes increase for Duncan Robinson for any kind of wing depth the Heat can put together. Justice Winslow could go back to his small forward role as well if he is able to get back on the court.
Bottom line for the Celtics is to keep the game plan similar to Monday night. Let Kyrie find his rhythm early on against poor guard defending. Once he can establish a presence, the rest of the team will be able to contribute as well. The Heat will come out as the desperate team trying to stay afloat in the playoff race, so jumping on them early will be critical.
PG – Kyrie Irving – Goran Dragic
SG – Marcus Smart – Dion Waiters
SF – Jayson Tatum – Rodney McGruder
PF – Semi Ojeleye – Kelly Olynyk
C – Al Horford – Bam Adebayo
Boston –Marcus Morris (Knee); Jaylen Brown (Back); Al Horford (Knee Soreness)
Miami- Derrick Jones Jr. (Knee); Justice Winslow (Thigh); Josh Richardson (Heel); Rodney McGruder (Knee)
How To Watch
Time- 7:30 EST
TV– NBC Sports Boston