The Eastern Conference Finals now moves to Boston with the teams tied at 1-1. The Celtics lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat 118-107, in spite of winning 3 of the 4 quarters. But it was the 3rd quarter that cost them the game. The Celtics led 62-54 at the half. In the third quarter, the Heat came out playing very physical and being aggressive on both ends of the court while the Celtics started to play tentatively and lost their composure and the result was that the Heat outscored the Celtics 39-14 in the quarter and although the Celtics made a run in the 4th quarter, the deficit was just too large.
The Celtics were without Marcus Smart and Al Horford in that first game and had just come off of a grueling game 7 against the Bucks along with having to travel while the Heat were well rested. In Game 2, the Celtics got Marcus Smart and Al Horford back in the starting lineup and after the Celtics got down 10 points early in the first quarter, they roared back to take a 35-24 lead going into the second quarter. They led by 25 points at the half and never looked back as they won the game 127-102.
Jimmy Butler said that the Heat were embarrassed by the Celtics and he vowed not to let that happen again. The Heat will watch film and Spoelstra will make adjustments and the Celtics will need to be ready to counter those adjustments. With their starting 5 back intact and the roster healthy, the Celtics defense may be too much for the Heat regardless of the adjustments that they make. The Celtics just need to keep playing with energy, heart and aggressiveness.
Marcus Smart and Al Horford returned to the starting lineup on Thursday and looked good in that game. Hopefully they will not have any kind of setback and be good to go in this game. Sam Hauser is expected to miss his 8th straight game due to a shoulder injury. Nick Stauskas appeared to suffer a lower leg injury in the final minutes of the Celtics’ Game 2 win over the Heat. He left the game after playing 4 minutes. He is considered to be questionable for this game. Robert Williams was a late addition to the injury list as questionable with knee soreness. If he can’t play, Grant Williams should get the nod to start. The Celtics are also hoping to get Derrick White back for this game after he missed Game 2 for the birth of his first child.
For the Heat, Kyle Lowry has missed 8 of the last 10 games with a hamstring injury. He traveled with the team to Boston but his status for this game is unknown at this time. He is listed as questionable. PJ Tucker left Game 2 with a knee contusion after playing 22 minutes. He is also listed as questionable and will be a game time decision. For the 3rd straight game, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus are both listed as questionable with hamstring injuries. However, they played in the other two with no problem and I expect them to play in this game as well. If Tucker can’t play, I’m going to guess that either Duncan Robinson or Markieff Morris will start in his place.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Robert Williams III
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Nick Stauskas (lower leg) questionable
Robert Williams (knee) questionable
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
Kyle Lowry (hamstring) questionable
PJ Tucker (knee) questionable
Gabe Vincent (hamstring) questionable
Max Strus (hamstring) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
This is definitely the key matchup for this game and for this series. Butler is averaging 29.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game in the playoffs. In Game 1, he put up 41 points to go with 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. In Game 2, he had 29 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. After shooting 2-9 from beyond the arc in Game 1, Jayson Tatum hit 4-6 threes in Game 2. The Celtics will need Jayson to be efficient once again in this game and to avoid turning the ball over in this game. He needs to play team ball and not hero ball and maybe not complain to the refs quite so much.
Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is averaging 13.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game in the playoffs. In Game 1, he had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 4 blocks and he followed that up with 6 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists in Game 2. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards. He has not been a factor for the Heat in the first two games and I imagine that one of the adjustments Spoelstra will try to make is to get Adebayo more involved and have him be more aggressive. The Celtics need to be ready to counter that. If Timelord can’t go due to knee soreness, then I expect Grant Williams to get the start in his place.
Gabe Vincent vs Marcus Smart
Vincent is averaging 8.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. He has been starting for Lowry while he has been out with the hamstring injury. In Game 2 against the Celtics, he had 14 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. If Lowry returns, this will be Lowry vs Smart. Marcus Smart returned to Game 2 after missing Game 1 with a foot injury and made a big impact on the game with 24 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals and 1 block, and he played excellent defense as always. The Celtics will need more of the same from Marcus, regardless of who starts for the Heat.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs and especially in this series. Both of these teams play tough physical defense. In Game 1, the Celtics allowed 118 points, which is out of character for their normal defense. In Game 2, they allowed only 102 points while the Heat gave up 127 points to the Celtics. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority and they have to play harder on defense than the Heat. While Jimmy Butler is the main threat on the Heat, they also have several other players who are capable of having big offensive games. The Celtics need to limit Butler but also to keep his surrounding cast from scoring also.
Rebound - As with defense, rebounding will always be a key to winning. 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. They need the ball to score and a great way to get the ball is to grab rebounds. In both of the games so far, the Heat had just 1 more rebound than the Celtics but in Game 2, the Heat had 4 more offensive rebounds. The Celtics have to work harder than the Heat to grab rebounds, especially on the offensive end.
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 2nd with 19.7 points off turnovers per game. In Game 1, the Celtics had 18 turnovers and they cleaned that up with only 9 in Game 2. If the Celtics get sloppy with their passes or ball handling as they did in the third quarter of Game 1, 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. They can’t lose focus over bad calls or no calls and give the Heat an advantage while they complain to the refs.
Be Aggressive for 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to come out strong to start the game and they need to play hard right up until the final buzzer. They need to be aggressive in getting to the basket, especially if they struggle from the perimeter. They have to be aggressive in going for rebounds, diving for loose balls, playing defense, and just playing hard. The Celtics must stay focused, play hard and with heart, get to the basket, and play tough lock down defense from the starting tip until the final buzzer with no let up.
Marcus Smart and Kyle Lowry - Marcus Smart has said that as he goes, so go the Celtics. The is proving to be the truth. They missed him in the Game 1 loss and they followed his lead in the Game 2 win. He is the heart and soul of the Celtics and especially of their defense. He needs to play with energy and effort and the team will follow his lead. On the other hand, the Heat have been without Kyle Lowry for much of the playoffs so far. His return could give the Heat a boost or if he returns too quickly and isn’t 100% it could throw off their rhythm.
Coaching - As the series goes on, coaching becomes more and more of an X-Factor. In Game 1 Spoelstra made adjustments at the half and the Heat came out and dominated the Celtics in the 3rd quarter. In Game 2, Udoka made adjustments after the Game 1 loss and the Celtics came back and blew out the Heat. Both coaches will be making more adjustments and trying to predict what their counterpart will do going into Game 3. Which coach will make the right moves to get the win?
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home for Game 3. The Heat aren’t a bad road team but the 3 games that they lost prior to Game 2 were all on the road so they are vulnerable there. 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, which are always loud in the playoffs. The Celtics need to reward their fans with a game where they give maximum effort to defeat a rival team in what will be a key game in this series.
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. In Game 1, the Heat took 34 free throws, with Jimmy Butler taking 18 of those and the Celtics took 32 free throws. It seemed that every time down the court someone was on the free throw line. In Game 2, the Heat took 22 free throws to 23 for the Celtics and the game seemed to have more flow. 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. Most of all, the Celtics have to stop complaining after every call instead of getting back on defense.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are six-point favorites hosting the Heat in Game 3 at TD Garden tonight. According to head coach Erik Spoelstra, Kyle Lowry and P.J. will warm up with intentions to play. Tucker left Game 2 on Thursday with a knee contusion. Lowry has missed eight of the last ten Miami playoff games with a strained hamstring; they’re 2-3 when he’s suited up. For Boston, Robert Williams is questionable with knee soreness after not appearing on the injury report yesterday.
If Lowry can play and be effective as a playmaker, that could take a huge load off Jimmy Butler’s back on the offensive end. After the Game 2 blowout, Butler said, “basically, I gotta do Kyle’s job, make sure guys are in spots where they can be comfortable and be their most successful. That’s on me. I don’t think that’s on Spo. I don’t think that’s on Bam. I think that’s my job because I got the ball a lot of the time to make sure everybody’s comfortable in the shots they need to have.” Through two games, Butler has scored 70 points with all other Heat starters mustering just 74.
Even if The Timelord doesn’t play on Saturday, the Celtics return another strong perimeter defender (and new dad!) Derrick White back in to the rotation. With Miami predominantly small, they’ll again face a Boston defense that held them to 71 points through three quarters in Game 3. Miami is shooting just 31.3% from behind the arc in the Eastern Conference Finals and for what it’s worth, the Nets and Bucks combined to shoot an even worse 26.5% at TD Garden in the playoffs.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.