The Boston Celtics enter Tuesday’s matchup with the Miami Heat riding high after overcoming a late scare to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
The win saw them witness their leading scorer return to form following a one-game struggle against Milwaukee. Jayson Tatum torched the Blazers for 34 points and a career-high eight assists. Jaylen Brown was also phenomenal in this game, dropping 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.
Against a Miami team with no shortage of wing defenders, how Boston’s young duo follows up their Sunday showcase will be worth keeping an eye on in a game that tips off at 6:30 EST.
Miami is coming off a four-point loss to the Toronto Raptors on Monday after erasing a third-quarter deficit as high as 17. They watched helplessly as Fred VanVleet torched them for a career-high 36 points on 7-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Celtics have won both contests versus the Heat so far this season, the last one coming way back on January 28th. A right groin strain kept Tatum sidelined, but Gordon Hayward filled in with 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Four other players scored in double figures, led by Brown’s 25 in a eight-point road victory in South Beach.
This game is not without stakes for both sides, as the Heat sit just 2.5 games behind Boston for the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. A Celtics loss adds pressure they’ve been trying to avoid in these seeding games as they attempt to ease Kemba Walker back into the high-usage player he was before his right knee issues.
PG – Kemba Walker – Kendrick Nunn
SG – Jaylen Brown – Jimmy Butler
SF – Gordon Hayward – Duncan Robinson
PF – Jayson Tatum – Jae Crowder
C – Daniel Theis – Bam Adebayo
How To Watch
Time – 6:30pm EST
TV – NBC Sports Boston, TNT, NBA League Pass
What to watch for
Kemba Walker’s continuous minutes increase
Walker’s knee issues and subsequent minutes restriction down in the bubble have been well documented at this point. He played just over 19 minutes in the seeding opener against the Bucks and 22 in the win over Portland in an attempt to keep the right knee that hampered him just before the league’s shutdown from flaring up under too heavy a workload.
The jump from game one to two means Kemba is due for another minutes bump against Miami, likely into the 25-26 range, to further ramp up his progress with the playoffs inching closer. Keep in mind, however, that the Celtics have a back-to-back today and tomorrow vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
Of the 41 minutes Walker’s accumulated so far, none have been in the fourth quarter. That will have to change eventually for the Celtics’ second-leading scorer, who’s played well in the time he’s been given.
He’s scored a combined 30 points across the two seeding games on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from downtown with just three turnovers.
Boston’s 3-point defense against Miami’s shooting prowess
Seven members of Miami’s rotation have shot better than 35.0 percent on threes this season. Four have crossed the 40.0 percent plateau. No surprise then that the Heat rank first in 3-point percentage at 38.3 while also finishing top-10 in threes made and attempted per game.
Boston, meanwhile, houses one of the stingiest 3-point defenses in the league, fourth in opponents percentage at 34.3 despite giving up the 12th-most attempts per game.
In a limited two-game sample size in the bubble, both teams have seen their strengths trend in the opposite direction since the restart. The Heat have shot 36.5 percent, good for 13th, while Boston has allowed opponents to shoot the 12th-best mark at 38.6 percent.
In fairness, the Celtics played two of the league’s premier 3-point shooting teams in Milwaukee and Portland. Denver and Toronto, Miami’s two opponents, are top-10 in opposing 3-point percentage.
Miami’s new starting lineup
The Heat have trotted out multiple different lineups in their two matchups against Boston. The first remains their most-used fivesome this season. Kendrick Nunn, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo, and Meyers Leonard were a plus-12.4 per Cleaning The Glass.
The second was without a traditional point guard with Tyler Herro replacing Nunn. It was a lineup with just 101 possessions with encouraging results of a plus-18.0 and an explosive offense that generates 124.8 points per 100 possessions according to CTG.
If Miami’s first two seeding games are any indication, Boston is bound for a third iteration that trots out Nunn, Butler, Robinson and old friend Jae Crowder at the four, embracing Adebayo as the lone big man to exploit the mismatches his offensive versatility can create.
This lineup has struggled to put up points in limited minutes, only 106.9 points per 100. Defensively is where it has wreaked havoc, ranking in the 94th percentile. It held both Denver and Toronto below their season averages and will look to do the same against a team coming off a 128-point outing.