The Celtics once again host the Miami Heat for the most important game for them this season. A win in this game would give the Celtics a win in the season series. It would also put them 1 game behind Miami for the 6th spot with 3 games left for both teams. A loss would put the Celtics 3 games behind the 6th spot and would just about guarantee them a spot in the play in tournament.
The Heat have the tougher schedule in their last 3 games. They have a home game vs Philadelphia and two road games against Milwaukee and Detroit. The games against Philadelphia and Milwaukee should challenge them, unless one or both decide to rest players. The Celtics have three road games against Cleveland, Minnesota, and New York. The games against the Cavaliers and the Knicks are both on the second night of back to back games.
It will be tough for the Celtics to win out, but they are capable of it if they play like they did to beat the Suns, Nuggets, Knicks, Bucks and Clippers. But if they play like they did on Sunday against the Heat, they might as well plan for the play-in tournament right now. The Celtics are also just 2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks, but the chances are that they will win out with home games against Washington, Orlando and Houston.
The Celtics got a blow to their playoff hopes on Monday when it was announced that Jaylen Brown would miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his wrist. Robert Williams played just 11 minutes on Sunday before leaving the game because of his toe injury. He is once again listed as out for this game. For the Heat, Victor Oladipo remains out with knee soreness.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams (toe) out
Jaylen Brown (wrist) out
Probable Heat Starters
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Evan Fournier vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is playing very well for the Heat and is leading the team with 21.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists. He is shooting 49.3% from the field and 20.2% from beyond the arc. In the first game against the Celtics, Butler put up 26 points. On Sunday, he had 26 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists. He is dangerous any time he has the ball to either score or to make the assist.
Tristan Thompson vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is averaging 18.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He is shooting 56.7% from the field and 25.0% from beyond the arc. In the first meeting between these two teams, Adebayo had 15 points and 10 rebounds. On Sunday, he had 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. The Celtics need to keep him off the boards, as well as limit his shots in the paint.
Marcus Smart vs Duncan Robinson
Robinson is averaging 13.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He is shooting 44% from the field and 40.8% from beyond the arc. On Sunday, he made the Celtics pay for leaving him open on the perimeter as he shot 60% from beyond the arc, making 6 threes for 22 points. Marcus needs to work a bit harder on defense and limit his looks from the outside.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have struggled on the defensive end this season, allowing teams like the Cavs, Bulls, and Thunder to have their best offensive games of the season. On Sunday, they allowed the Heat to shoot 57.3% from the field and 45.7% from beyond the arc. They absolutely have to defend better, especially on the perimeter and not allow open threes every time down the court. When the Celtics struggle with making shots, they also seem to let up on defense. They need to play tough team defense especially when they aren’t making shots. The Celtics must make 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.
Effort and Energy- In most of their losses this season, a lack of effort and energy were the biggest reasons for losing. This year, they have gotten off to slow starts and have allowed teams to out hustle them and play harder than them and that includes Sunday’s game against the Heat. The Celtics have to come out with effort and energy to start the game and not allow the Heat to start strong. They also need to play with effort right up until the final buzzer.
Bench Play - The Celtics need their reserves to contribute when the starters get a rest. The Heat reserves average 64.3 points per game, even without Victor Oladipo playing. Tyler Herro averages 15.1 points per game and Goran Dragic averages 13.4 points per game. Both are playing very well in recent games. The Celtics must get contributions both on offense and defense from their reserves if they hope to win this game.
Play with Urgency - This game will determine if the Celtics have to play in the play-in tournament or if they get to rest players while other teams fight for a playoff spot. On Sunday, the Heat played hard right from the start, while the Celtics came out with no urgency and played like they were stuck in mud, allowing the heat to get off to a 79-53 lead at the half. The Celtics have to play hard and with the urgency that this game (and the fans) deserve.
Who Wants It? - To start Sunday’s game, the Celtics played like they really would rather have been anywhere else. On the other hand, the Heat played hard on both ends and were focused on getting the win. The Celtics finally started playing after the half and pulled to within 6 points. If they had played with that intensity from the start, they would have won the game. How much do the Celtics really want this game?
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home. They have fans in the stands and those fans have been cheering their hearts out for their team. The Heat aren’t a bad road team with a 17-16 record, but they will have the distractions of being on the road and having to stay in a hotel and the cheers (and jeers) of the Celtics fans. The Celtics need to at least give as much effort as the fans do.
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 and no calls take them out of the game. Hopefully these refs will call it fairly in such an important game.