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Miami Heat (0-0) at Boston Celtics (0-0) Eastern Conference Finals Game #1 5/17/23

The Eastern Conference Finals begin with the Miami Heat visiting the Boston Celtics.

SPORTS-BKN-HEAT-CELTICS-RIVALRY-MI David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The second seeded Celtics host the 8th seeded Miami Heat in a repeat of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. The only other 8th seed to make the Eastern Conference Finals were the 1999 Knicks. This is the 3rd meeting between these two teams in the past 4 years. The Heat beat the Celtics in 6 games in the bubble in 2020. The Celtics beat the Heat in 7 games in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat had home court advantage last season but the Celtics have home court advantage in these playoffs.

The Celtics and Heat split the season series 2-2 with the Celtics winning the first 2 games and the Heat winning the last two games. Each team won 1 game on the road and 1 game at home. The Heat made it to the ECF by beating the first seed Milwaukee Bucks in 5 games in the first round and they beat the 5th seed New York Knicks in 6 games. The Celtics beat the 7th seeded Atlanta Hawks in 6 games and then defeated the 3rd seeded Philadelphia 76ers in 7 games.

The Celtics will need to be ready for a very motivated Heat team with a huge chip on their shoulders and a lot of confidence. The Celtics beat the Heat in Game 7 on their home court last season and afterwards Jimmy Butler vowed to be back in the ECF to get revenge and he made good on his promise. Butler missed what would have been a go ahead 3 pointer with 17 seconds left and the Celtics went on to win the game and series. The Heat will be looking for revenge in this series and the Celtics need to be ready for their best effort.

The Heat and the Celtics have met 5 times in playoff history. They have met 3 times in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, 2020, and 2022. They met one time in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2011. And they met one time in the first round in 2010. The Heat hold a 3-2 record against the Celtics in those 5 playoff series. Erik Spoelstra was the coach of the Heat for all 5 of those series. The Celtics have had 3 different coaches: Doc Rivers, Brad Stevens, and Ime Udoka plus Joe Mazzulla for this series.

The Celtics are mostly healthy going into this series. Danilo Gallinari is the only Celtic on the injury list as he continues to rehab from the ACL tear. Other Celtics have various bumps and bruises but should be able to continue to play through them. For the Heat, Tyler Herro broke the middle and ring fingers on his right hand in the Bucks series and is listed as out for this game. He hasn’t done any shooting or dribbling as yet so is not near ready for a return. Victor Oladipo tore his patellar tendon and will miss the rest of the playoffs. Jimmy Butler sprained his ankle in the Knicks series but has been playing through it. He has had 4 days off and I expect him to be ready for this game.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III

Celtics Reserves
Malcolm Brogdon
Grant Williams
Sam Hauser
Payton Pritchard
Luke Kornet
Blake Griffin
Mike Muscala
Derrick White

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Heat Starters

PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo

Heat Reserves
Udonis Haslem
Haywood Highsmith
Nikola Jovic
Kyle Lowry
Caleb Martin
Duncan Robinson
Omer Yurtseven
Cody Zeller

2 Way Players
Jamal Cain
Dru Smith

Tyler Herro (hand) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out

Head Coach
Erik Spoelstra

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
To say that Butler has played very well in the playoffs so far is an understatement. He is averaging 31.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He is shooting 52.7% from the field and 36.1% from beyond the arc. His 31.1 points per game leads all players still playing. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 21.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal per game, shooting 55.3% from the field and 0% from three. More importantly, he is a good defender who has limited Jayson Tatum in the past. The Celtics need Tatum to play like he did in Game 7 against the 76ers. Against the Heat, he can’t afford an 0-16 start.

Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is averaging 18.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 49.7% from the field and 0% from beyond the arc. Against Boston this season, he averaged 25 points, 9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals. He is dangerous around the basket to score and to grab rebounds. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint as well as off the boards.

Honorable Mention
Malcolm Brogdon vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry has been coming off the bench for the Heat in these playoffs but he is still very important to their game plan. He is averaging 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals. He is shooting 44.2% from the field and 35.7% from beyond the arc. He has lost a step from his prime, but he still is very wily and also will hit big shots when they need them. The Celtics will need Brogdon to play very well on both ends of the court.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning every game and becomes even more important in the playoffs. Both of these teams play tough defense. The Celtics and Heat both have a playoff defensive rating of 111.0. The Celtics defense has been inconsistent so far in the playoffs, but in Games 6 and 7 against the 76ers, they showed how good they can be on defense, holding them to 86 and 88 points in those last 2 games. The Celtics need to make defense a priority and play that same kind of defense against the Heat.

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 average 41.3 rebounds per game while the Celtics average 44.0 rebounds per game. The Celtics have to work harder on the boards than the Heat and win the rebounding battle if they want to win this game.

Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics are averaging 12.0 turnovers, which is 2nd in the playoffs but they still have periods when they turn the ball over too much. 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 careful when handling the ball and not dribble into a crowd and not get sloppy with the ball. The Heat average 20.4 points off turnovers per game, which is 1st among playoff teams. If the Celtics get sloppy, the Heat will make them pay.

Urgency and Effort - These are the keys to winning this game. If they play with urgency and put out the extra effort, especially on defense and on the boards, they have a good chance of winning the game. It would be easy to let up and think that the Heat are the 8th seed and to underestimate them but that would be a huge mistake. The Heat win their games by playing harder than their opponents more than by having more talent. The Celtics have to be the team that plays harder and is more aggressive and plays with more urgency.

Stay Focused - The Celtics need to stay focused on playing the game the right way. The Celtics have to stay focused on taking and making good shots and that includes going to the basket if their 3’s aren’t falling. They have to be focused on making crisp passes and not get sloppy. The Celtics must be focused on their ball handling and passing to avoid those turnovers and steals. The Celtics have to keep their focus on playing hard and on playing the right way. They must stay focused on their defensive assignments and not allow the Heat easy baskets. They must stay focused for the full 48 minutes and not lose focus for any period in the game. Erik Spoelstra will likely throw several different defensive looks at them during the game and the Celtics can’t get frustrated but must stay focused on playing hard and together.

Home Game - The Celtics are opening the series at home. The Garden was loud and gave the Celtics a boost in Game 7 and hopefully they will keep that same energy for this game. The Heat were 17-24 on the road in the regular season and they are 3-7 on the road in the playoffs so far. However, they have won the first game in both of their series so far in these playoffs. The Celtics can’t assume that they will win because they are at home because the Heat have proved that they can win on the road in these playoffs.

Coaching - The Heat have a top 10 coach, who has been with the Heat since 1997 and has been their head coach since 2008. Spoelstra has 12 playoff appearances, 9 division titles, 5 conference championships, and 2 championships as a coach. The Celtics’ coach was just thrown into the head coaching spot weeks before the season and is coaching in his first season. If the Heat have an advantage over the Celtics, this is it.

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. 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. Focus on playing the game and not on the officials.

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