The Celtics return home from a short handed overtime loss to the Raptors to host the Miami Heat, who are coming off a home win over the Kings. This is the third and final meeting between these two teams in the regular season. The Celtics won the first game 95-78 at Miami on November 4 and won the second game 122-92 at Boston on January 31. Win or lose this game, the Celtics will win the series between these two teams.
The Celtics are 3rd once again after the Sixers lost to the Bucks on Tuesday. They are coming off a loss that snapped a 6 game win streak. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 26-12 at home. They are 30-17 against other Eastern Conference teams. They are now half a game behind 2nd place Milwaukee and 1 game behind first place Miami. They are half a game ahead of 4th place Philadelphia, who lost to Milwaukee on Tuesday. They are also 3 games ahead of 5th place Chicago, 3.5 games ahead of 6th place Toronto and 4.5 games ahead of 7th place Cleveland.
The Heat are first in the East and are coming off a win that snapped a 4 game losing streak. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 21-16 on the road. They are 30-16 against Eastern Conference opponents. They are half a game ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee, 1 game ahead of 3rd place Boston, 1.5 games ahead of 4th place Philadelphia, 4 games ahead of 5th place Chicago and 4.5 games ahead of 6th place Toronto. The standings are still very close and there are quite a few big games coming up between the top 6 teams that could drastically change the seeding.
The Celtics had their 6 game win streak snapped by the Raptors on Monday in Toronto as the Celtics played without 4 of their starters. This is the first of a 3 game home stand for the Celtics. They will host Indiana on Friday and Washington on Sunday. They will then finish the season on the road at Chicago, Milwaukee and then finally Memphis. It goes without saying that this game and the Milwaukee games are very important for playoff implications.
The Heat had a 4 game losing streak snapped when they beat the Kings at home on Monday night. This is the first game of a 3 game road trip for the Heat. They will play at Chicago on 4/2 and at Toronto on 4/3. The Raptors get lucky to host yet another contender on the second night of back to back games. The Heat will then host Charlotte and Atlanta before finishing the season at Orlando.
Al Horford is no longer on the Celtics injury list so I’m assuming that he will be back in the lineup and with Timelord out, will play center. I’m going to guess that Grant Williams will once again start at the four. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are both listed as a game time decision but their game notes list them as probable. Robert Williams is unfortunately out and will be out for some time.
For the Heat, they have 3 players listed as questionable. Caleb Martin injured his calf on Saturday and missed Monday’s game against the Kings. He is questionable for this game. Duncan Robinson was listed as questionable on Tuesday with a non-covid illness. Gabe Vincent missed 4 games with a toe injury but played 20 minutes on Monday. He is listed as “iffy” for this game, whatever that means.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Al Horford
Jaylen Brown (Knee) probable
Jayson Tatum (knee) probable
Robert Williams (knee) out
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
Caleb Martin (calf) questionable
Duncan Robinson (illness) questionable
Gabe Vincent (toe) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is averaging 21.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He is shooting 47.5% from the field and just 22.1% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint and guard him closely on midrange shots. Hopefully Jayson Tatum will be back for this game and will continue where he left off as the Eastern Conference player of the week. Butler is a good defender and so will try to make things more difficult for Tatum.
Marcus Smart vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry keeps the Miami offense moving and is a good defender. He is averaging 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. He is shooting 43.1% from the field and 36.9% from beyond the arc. He has had big games against the Celtics in the past and the Celtics need to keep him from getting open shots and open passing lanes.
Al Horford vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is averaging 19.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 55.3% from the field and is not a threat on three’s. This matchup will be more difficult without Robert Williams and Horford and Theis will need to step up their defense to keep Adebayo from having a big game. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint and off the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the first and foremost key to winning. The Celtics are 1st with a defensive rating of 105.9. The Heat are a tough defensive team also at 5th with a defensive rating of 108.1. The Celtics must make defense a priority in this game. The Celtics need to especially guard the 3 point line as the Heat are first in the league in 3 point percentage, shooting 37.4% from beyond the arc. In their first game against the Heat, the Celtics held them to 34.6% from the field while the Heat held the Celtics to 39.7% from the field. This game will also likely be a defensive showdown and the Celtics must match or exceed the Heat’s effort on defense if they expect to get a win.
Rebound - As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. Teams need the ball to score and rebounding gives them extra possessions and also keeps their opponents from getting those possessions themselves. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to grab rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of the game as well. The Heat score 12.8 second chance points per game and the Celtics need to work hard on the boards to stop those extra points.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to come out and be aggressive right from the opening tip. They have to be aggressive on defense, driving to the basket, rebounding, diving for loose balls and just playing harder in general. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Heat outwork them for any period of time. They have to play with confidence and play harder than the Heat on both ends of the court. The very shorthanded Celtics came close to beating a talented Raptors team by their grit and hustle. We need to see that same grit and hustle and even more so against this Heat team.
Stay Focused - The Celtics have to stay focused on playing the right way. They have to focus on making crisp passes and on handling the ball and not turning it over as the Heat are 7th with 17.3 points off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get sloppy with their passes or ball handling, the Heat will make them pay. They also have to focus on moving the ball and moving without the ball in order to get the best shots and they need to stay focused on making those shots.
Next Man Up - The Celtics will be without Robert Williams for the foreseeable future and they are going to have to figure out how to replace his valuable contributions on both ends of the court. They have to continue to play with confidence and with heart and hustle and grit. They showed that they can still keep their identity as they almost beat the Raptors without Horford, Brown and Tatum. Hopefully those three will be back and the Celtics can continue to be a tough, gritty team that locks down teams on defense.
Bench Play - The Heat have a tough bench with Tyler Herro, Markieff Morris, Duncan Robinson, and Victor Oladipo among others. The Celtics reserves showed that they can play when they almost beat the Raptors on Monday. The Question is, can they do this on a consistent basis.
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home. The Heat aren’t a bad road team with a 21-16 record away from home, 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 reward their fans with a game where they give maximum effort to defeat a rival team in a very important game.
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 or affect their focus.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are a 5.5-point favorite against the Heat at TD Garden on Wednesday night. Boston comes into possibly their final measuring stick game before the playoffs well rested. It’s been a week since we’ve seen Al Horford on the floor and both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum did not travel to Toronto on Monday on the backend of a back-to-back. Despite losing to the Raptors, the Celtics are still one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the All-Star break and have passed nearly every test against a contender since the start of the new year.
It will be a game of contrasts. The older Heat are much more deliberate on both ends of the court, a bruising squad headlined by old dogs Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and P.J. Tucker with Bam Adebayo acting as the sun to satellite shooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. The Celtics have steamrolled teams with hot shooting from behind the arc (38% over the last fifteen games), by sharing the ball (27 assists per game), and a defense that has stymied opponents to 110 points per 100 possessions.
Boston vs. Miami seems to always come down to x-factors. Think Tyler Herro in the Eastern Conference Finals in the bubble. Boston’s backcourt of Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard have all been trending up over the last two weeks and if they can both tamp down the Heat’s shooters and put pressure on the rim on offense, the Celtics should be able to improve their home record to 27-12.
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