The Celtics and Heat meet for the first time since September 27 when the Heat eliminated the Celtics from the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams have been inconsistent so far this season and struggling somewhat which may be due to personnel changes for both teams, or the fact that they had a very short off season.
The Celtics won the season series 2-1 over the Heat last season while the Heat won the Eastern Conference 4-2 over the Celtics. The Celtics are 75-48 all time against the Heat and 35-29 against them on the road. The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 4 game road trip. These two teams will meet again in 4 days on January 10 in Boston when the Heat will be on the 2nd game of a 4 game road trip.
The Heat have started 6 different starting lineups in their 6 games so far. They have not won two games in a row yet this season and have alternated wins and losses. They won their last game against the Thunder and the starting lineup played well. Spoelstra may or may not start the same 5 this game but I have listed the same starters that started their last game. Moe Harkless (arm) is questionable and Gabe Vincent (knee) is probable for this game.
Kemba Walker (knee), Javonte Green (covid), and Romeo Langford (wrist) all remain out for the Celtics. Jeff Teague missed Monday’s game with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable for this game. Marcus Smart also missed Monday’s game with a sprained thumb and is also listed as questionable for this game. I have included him in the starting lineup mostly due to wishful thinking. If Smart can’t play, then Tremont Waters may once again get the start.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Javonte Green (covid) out
Jeff Teague (ankle) questionable
Marcus Smart (thumb) questionable
Probable Heat Starters
Moe Harkless (arm) questionable
Gabe Vincent (knee) probable
Tristan Thompson vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is playing very well. He is averaging 19.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. One of the reasons the Celtics lost to the Heat in the playoffs was because they struggled to match up with Bam Adebayo. With the addition of Tristan Thompson, that shouldn’t be as big a problem for them this season.
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
Butler has struggled a bit out of the gates and is averaging 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.75 steals. He snapped back somewhat with 18 points against OKC in their last game. Butler will have his hands full on the defensive end trying to contain Jayson Tatum and that may cause him to struggle once again on the offensive end.
Marcus Smart vs Tyler Herro
Herro gave the Celtics all they could handle in the playoffs. This season he picked up right where he left off averaging 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. Hopefully Marcus Smart will be able to play as the Celtics will need his defense against Herro. If Smart can’t play, then I expect Tremont Waters will once again start at the point.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have struggled on the defensive end so far this season but seemed to do somewhat better in Monday’s game. The Heat has struggled on the offensive end, but have played good defense, with a defensive rating of 105.7 (8th). The Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.7 (21st). The Celtics must get back to making defense a priority, especially against a dangerous team like the Heat.
Rebound - The Celtics have to crash the boards to keep the Heat from getting second chance points on the one end and to give themselves extra possessions on the other end. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to put out the extra effort to beat the Heat on the boards. When they put out extra effort on the boards, that usually carries over to the rest of their game.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man for the best shots available. When they dribble too much or try to play hero ball, things don’t often end well. On the other hand, when they share the ball and make the extra pass, good things happen. The Celtics have to keep the ball moving but they have to make careful passes and avoid careless turnovers.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics must start out strong and not let the Heat build a lead that they will have to expend a lot of extra energy to erase. They also can’t afford to start strong and then take their foot off the gas and lose a lead or let the other team outplay them. They have to start strong and play hard throughout the entire game right up to the final buzzer.
Bench Play - The Celtics need their reserves to contribute when the starters get a rest. With players out with injuries, the reserves become even more important. Brad Stevens was not happy that he had to put Jaylen and Jayson back in the game on Monday as the reserves gave up much of a big lead. Jayson Tatum wasn’t all that happy having to go back in either. So, hopefully the Celtics reserves can hold their own in this one.
Revenge - It has not been all that long since the Heat knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs and the Celtics should want to avenge that loss by getting a win in this one. They have the extra motivation and will need to add the energy and focus (and defense) to get it done.
Another Road Game - The Celtics are playing in their 4th straight game on the road. They have had a tough schedule and have played 2 more games than the Heat. Fatigue could become a problem for them and they may need to dig deep to get a win.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. 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 take them out of the game.