The Celtics will host Game 1 of their first round series on April 15th at 3:30 pm at TD Garden. Who will share the parquet floor with them on Saturday is still up in the air. The first game of the play-in tournament pits the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks in the #7 vs. #8 matchup, with the winner heading to Boston this weekend and the loser heading home for another chance to face the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1.
Last spring, Miami dispatched of Atlanta quickly in a gentlemen’s sweep 4-1. Both teams were banged up, but in the end, the #1 seeded Heat used a stifling defense to smother Trae Young (31.9 FG%, 18.4% 3FG%) and the Hawks.
Things might be different in 2023. The Hawks haven’t exactly soared to the same heights that had them in the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, but they’ve retooled since their postseason meeting with the Heat last year. After firing Nate McMillan after an underwhelming 29-30 start to the regular season, new head coach Quin Snyder didn’t fare much better, going .500 in twenty games. However, since March 1st, they’ve averaged the most points per game in the league with a 119.2 offensive rating. They don’t necessarily defend well, but the hottest offense coming into the playoffs has to mean something.
This single play-in game is truly a contest of contrast. In South Beach, the aging Heat can still defend, finishing the year 9th in defensive efficiency (112.8 points per 100 possessions). They just haven’t been able to score consistently, although they finished their final twenty games with a 117.8 offensive rating. Playoff Jimmy Butler is still Playoff Jimmy Butler — Celtics fans know this all too well — and eventually moving veterans Kevin Love into and Kyle Lowry out of the starting lineup may have preserved them just enough for a final Finals push.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are currently +160 to win the Eastern Conference and +320 to win The Finals. Those odds could change of course depending on who they meet in the first round: could a rematch with the Heat who took them to seven games last year in the ECF affect those odds or will a Hawks team they crushed in all three regular season games be a mere formality?
Miami is currently a 5-point favorite at the newly-named Kaseya Center against Atlanta on Tuesday night at 7:30 pm EST. The Heat went 3-1 against the Hawks this season, including a two-game mini-series sweep back at the beginning of March.
However, who you think will win vs. who you think are a better matchup for the Celtics could be two different answers. Answer in the comments section with both picks.
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