The Celtics host the Miami Heat in the first of two home games that may determine if the Celtics will be in the play in tournament or not. This is the second of 3 regular season games with the third game on Tuesday, also in Boston. The Celtics won the first meeting 107-105 on January 6 in Miami on a Payton Pritchard put back with 0.2 seconds left in the game. A January 10th game was postponed due to Covid.
On Friday, the Celtics lost a very winnable game to the Chicago Bulls and the Heat won their game against the Timberwolves, which moved the Heat 1 game ahead of the Celtics for the 6th spot in the standings and moved the Celtics to 7th and into the play-in tournament. It goes without saying that these games are must win for the Celtics to avoid the play-in games.
After these two games, Miami has a home game vs Philadelphia and two road games against Milwaukee and Detroit. The Celtics will 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. We know that the Celtics are capable of winning these games, but we don’t know which Celtics team will show up: the one that beat the Suns, Nuggets, Knicks, Bucks and Clippers, or the one that lost to the Cavs, Pistons, Thunder and Bulls.
After their loss to the Bulls, the Celtics have dropped to 7th in the East. They are 1 game behind the 6th place Miami Heat and 1.5 games behind 5th place Atlanta Hawks. They are 2 games behind the 4th place New York Knicks, who still have games against the Clippers, Lakers, Spurs, Hornets and Celtics. The Celtics are 4-6 in their last 10 games and are 21-13 at home.
The Heat are 6th in the East. They are half a game behind 5th place Atlanta and 1 game behind 4th place New York. They are a game ahead of Boston and if the Celtics can win just one of the two games, the Celtics will own the tie breaker over the Heat. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have won 8 of their last 11 games. They are 16-16 on the road.
Both teams are nearing full strength. Jaylen Brown was listed as questionable but was downgraded to out on Sunday, Evan Fournier should get the start in his place once again. Robert Williams has been upgraded to probable and I’ve also included him in the starting lineup. If he can’t play, I expect Tristan Thompson to get the start at center.
For the Heat, Victor Oladipo remains out with a knee injury. He is the only player who did not travel to Boston for the 2 game mini-series. Oladipo has missed 16 straight games due to the knee injury. Andre Iguodala is listed as questionable with a quad injury. He traveled with the team to Boston and his status will be a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Evan Fournier
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Robert Williams III
Robert Williams (toe) probable
Jaylen Brown (ankle) out
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Kendrick Nunn
SG: Duncan Robinson
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: Bam Adebayo
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Andre Iguodala (quad) questionable
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. He is dangerous any time he has the ball to either score or to make the assist.
Robert Williams III 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. The Celtics need to keep him off the boards, as well as limit his shots in the paint. If Timelord can’t play, then Tristan Thompson should get the start opposite Adebayo.
Kemba Walker vs Kendrick Nunn
Nunn is averaging 14.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He is shooting 47.3% from the field and 37.7% from beyond the arc. The Heat also have Tyler Herro, who had 27 points in his last game in a return from a 6 game absence, and Goran Dragic, who is averaging 17.4 points, and 4.4 assists over his last 5 games, to throw out there at point guard. Hopefully, Kemba can continue his stellar play of the last two games.
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. The Heat have played decent defense, with a defensive rating of 110.3, good for 8th in the league. The Celtics defensive rating is 111.7 (13th). 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.
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 since the Heat average 17.8 points off turnovers per game and the Celtics have been turning the ball over way too much.
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. 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. The Celtics have been relying too much on shot making, especially 3 pointers and that limits their ability to grind out wins. They need to fight to get to the basket, especially if the outside shots aren’t falling.
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 - These two games against the Heat will determine if the Celtics have to play 1 or 2 extra games before the playoffs begin or if they get to rest players while other teams fight for a playoff spot in the play-in tournament. The Heat seem to know what they are playing for and have been playing hard while the Celtics have come out with no urgency and played like they were stuck in mud. They have to play hard and with the urgency that these two games deserve. The Celtics especially need more from Jayson Tatum than 9 points and 0-7 from 3 point range.
Matinee Game - The Celtics are playing in their 11th afternoon game of the season. They are just 4-6 in those 10 games and often come out lethargic and play like they are sleep waling in the afternoon games. The Heat are playing in just their 5th afternooon game and are 3-1 in their previous 4 matinee games. Hopefully the importance of the game will get the Celtics moving and playing hard, regardless of the start time.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home for the two games against the Heat. They have fans in the stands, not a lot of fans, but enough to be heard, and they need to get some energy from those fans cheering them on. The Heat aren’t a bad road team with a 16-16 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.
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 important games. With Scott Foster as the lead ref, who knows what we will get.