For the second time in these playoffs, the Celtics will have a Game 7. The Celtics visit the Miami Heat for the ultimate win or go home game in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics were up 3-2 in the series after a win in Miami in Game 5 and then came out flat in Game 6 at home and lost to the Heat who got 47 points from Jimmy Butler.
The Celtics have been in this spot before. In 2012, the Celtics were up 3-2 over LeBron James and the Miami Heat and lost Game 6 in Boston behind 45 points from LeBron James and then they went on to lose Game 7 in Miami. That Celtics team was older and the Big 3 were pretty much on their last leg and Rajon Rondo was injured so the comparisons aren’t exactly accurate.
This core group of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford were up 3-2 in 2018. That time it was to an experienced Cavaliers team, also led by LeBron James, that beat the Celtics in Cleveland in Game 6 and then closed the series out in Boston in Game 7. The Celtics were young and the experience factor of the Cavs won out.
The Celtics have lost in their last 4 Eastern Conference Finals appearances. In two of those, the Celtics were up 3-2 going into Game 6. The Celtics as a franchise are 40-4 when leading 3-2 in a series, with the 4 losses being the last 4 teams to make it there. Teams leading 3-2 going into Game 6 win the series 83.3% of the time. After losing Game 6, the Celtics odds to win the series dropped to just 51%.
The Celtics haven’t lost back to back games in these playoffs. In 63 games in 2022, the Celtics lost back to back just 3 times. One of those times was their March 30 game against the Miami Heat in Boston after losing to the Raptors two days earlier in Toronto. Robert Williams missed that game while the Heat were pretty much at full strength.
The Celtics can definitely win on the road. They are 6-2 on the road already so far in the playoffs. They won Games 2 and 5 in Miami in this series. They have also won a Game 7 in these playoffs. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Celtics were down 2-3 and won Game 6 in Milwaukee and then closed out the series in Boston in Game 7. The Celtics are 86-69 all time in closeout games. They are just 38-50 when those closeout games are on the road.
The injury list for the Celtics is the same going into this game as it was going into Game 6. Robert Williams (knee) and Marcus Smart (ankle) are both back on the injury list as questionable going into this game. Both played in Games 5 and 6 but both at one point or another appeared to be slightly limited by their injury. I expect both to play in this game if it is at all possible for them to do so. I have included both in the starting lineup. Sam Hauser is out with a shoulder injury.
The Heat have once again listed 5 players on their injury list as questionable. Max Strus (hamstring), Gabe Vincent (hamstring), Kyle Lowry (hamstring), PJ Tucker (knee) and Tyler Herro (groin) are all listed as questionable. The first 4 have been listed as questionable going into each of the games so far but all have played and showed no sign of injury. That leaves Tyler Herro as the only player who is actually questionable. He sat out the last 3 games for the Heat and will be a game time decision for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Sam Hauser (shoulder) out
Marcus Smart (ankle) questionable
Robert Williams III (knee) questionable
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
Kyle Lowry (hamstring) questionable
Gabe Vincent (hamstring) questionable
Max Strus (hamstring) questionable
Tyler Herro (groin) questionable
PJ Tucker (knee) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
This is definitely the key matchup for this game. he averaged 7 points, 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1 steal in Games 3 and 4 and had 13 points, 6 rebounds 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in Game 5. He appeared to be limited by the knee injury that he suffered in Game 3. However that all changed when he played 46 minutes in Game 6 and finished with 47 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 1 block. Does he have enough in the tank for another big game? Jayson Tatum played had 18 points in the first half of Game 6 but then was passive in the second half scoring just 12 points more. He also put up just one shot in the 4th quarter. The Celtics need more from Jayson Tatum in this game.
Marcus Smart vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry, like Butler, struggled in the series so far. He missed Games 1 and 2 and struggled in Games 3,4 and 5. It appeared that he was still hampered by the hamstring injury that kept him out of all but 5 playoff games before his debut in Game 3. Like Butler, he came up big for the Heat in 37 minutes in Game 6, finishing with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists and 1 steal. Will he continue to play well or struggle once again? Marcus Smart has also been struggling with an ankle injury and has been playing through it but seems to be hampered by it at times in the game. The Celtics need a strong game from Smart in this one.
Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo averaged 8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the first two games, he came out in Game 3 very aggressive and put up 31 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 1 block with Robert Williams out. Robert returned for Game 4 and Bam went back to 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Adebayo has struggled in each of the games that he has had to face Timelord. Robert is once again questionable for this game but hopefully he will be able to play and once again keep Adebayo from having a big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs and even more especially in this series. Both of these teams play tough physical defense. The Celtics need to play team defense and they have to make defense a priority. They have to show urgency and aggressiveness on defense. They seemed to be lax on defense in Game 6 and it cost them. They have to come out from the very start and play lock down defense and not let up for even a little bit until the game is over.
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. The Heat out-rebounded the Celtics 37-34 in Game 6 and more importantly, they out-rebounded them 11-6 on the offensive end. The Celtics just didn’t play with the sense of urgency that the Heat did.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics had 16 turnovers in their Game 1 loss and they turned the ball over 24 times for 33 Heat points in their loss in Game 3. In their loss in Game 6, they turned the ball over 17 times for 22 points. When the Celtics turn the ball over a lot they lose and when they don’t they win. It’s as simple as that. The Celtics must limit their turnovers in this game. They have to make crisp passes and be aware of the defenders who are very good at getting into the passing lanes. They have to be more careful when handling the ball and not dribble into a crowd and not get sloppy with the ball.
Urgency and Effort - These are the keys to winning this game. If they play with urgency and put out the extra effort, they have a good chance of winning the game. The Heat win their games by playing harder than their opponents more than by having more talent. They definitely won Game 6 by playing harder than the Celtics. The Celtics have to be the team that plays harder and is more aggressive and plays with more urgency. They have bounced back from every loss so far to play with more urgency and more aggressiveness and they have to do that one more time to win this game.
Coaching - As the series has gone on, coaching has become more and more of an X-Factor with each coach making adjustments to counter problems from the last game. It is Ime’s turn to adjust to what worked for the Heat to win in Game 6. Ime needs to find a way to limit both Butler and Lowry as well as the role players like Strus, Adebayo, and Tucker. He also needs to solve the Celtics’ turnover problem and get the Celtics to play their hardest right from the start.
Close Out Game - Close out games are always the hardest games to win. The team that is up tends to relax a little and whether consciously or unconciously they let the other team get going and often they can’t stop them. In this case, neither team is up, but the Heat have to feel like the underdog. The Celtics can’t relax and they have to play with more urgency than the Heat.
Injuries - Most of the players on both teams are banged up in some way. The Celtics had a grueling 7 game series against the Bucks with no rest before heading into and even more grueling series against the Heat. Hopefully both Timelord and Marcus Smart will be able to play and be effective. Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry both played big minutes in Game 6 and may or may not have it in them to play another game like that. Herro may or may not play but I expect everyone else to be out there. Which team can play through their injuries better?
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. At times the officials have an agenda of some sort. In Game 6 the officiating was very inconsistent and bad both ways. In the last 2 minutes alone, there were 6 bad calls, with 4 of those against the Celtics. 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. Focus on playing the game and not on the officials.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 2.5-point favorites heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami against the Heat.
The optimist knows the story for this Boston team in these NBA playoffs: the Celtics have consistently bounced back after losses. They haven’t lost back-to-back games in the postseason, including winning a do-or-die Game 6 on the road against the Bucks. Per the Celtics’ radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande, they’re 11-0 and a +18.7 after a loss and 22-7 with a +12.4 in their last 29 road games. They’ve proven resilient after self-inflicted losses and/or frustrating clashes with officials and missed calls (see Game 6’s Last Two Minutes report if you have the stomach for it).
Through six games, both teams’ strategies have come into focus. The Celtics seem content allowing Jimmy Butler to shoot long 2’s. Of his twenty-nine shots in Game 6, he was 5-of-8 from outside the restricted area and 4-for-8 from behind the arc. Can he replicate that performance? Boston will dare him again on Sunday.
For Miami, they successfully took the ball out of Jaylen Brown’s and Jayson Tatum’s hands in the second half on Friday. The pair only took seven shots after halftime with the Heat blitzing them in the halfcourt and forcing role players to beat them. Despite the Celtics generating higher quality shots in Game 6, Marcus Smart and Al Horford combined for 2-for-11 from behind the arc. However, in a Game 7, there’s always an element of expected desperation. Throw out the analytics, the stats, and the injury reports. Anything is possible.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.