With only four teams remaining, the Boston Celtics find themselves once again facing off against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series marks the second straight meeting of the two rivals, and their third meeting in four seasons. As the higher seed, Boston will host Miami to start the series off on Wednesday night for Game 1 at TD Garden.
“We’ve got some experience,” said Jaylen Brown on facing up against the Heat again. “That Miami team is looking to atone from last year. They’re gonna come out playing hungry, come out fighting. You’ve gotta be the harder playing team.” Boston’s experience against Miami will serve them well in that regard, as they know how ferocious and tenacious the Heat can play on either side of the ball.
The messaging and emphasis from Brown on playing hard and with effort is an encouraging sign. Leading into this series, the playoffs have been a test for the Celtics mainly due to their inability to keep leads and fall into scoring ruts; it was clear as day in both the Hawks and 76ers series. In a matchup with Miami, the margin of error gets even slimmer, as expected with an Erik Spoelstra-coaching team. What they may lack in pure talent, they make up with in terms of execution and effort; if you don’t match that intensity, Miami is bound to leave you in the dust.
“They had a tremendous story,” said Brown on the Miami Heat this season. “Going all the way from the play-in and just streamroll through the playoffs. We just got to come out and set the tone in it with our energy and try to cool them off a little bit.” After being beaten in Game 7 of the conference finals last year, it’s understandable for the Heat to have an ax to grind. But after Boston came up short in the Finals against the Warriors, they’re just as motivated and desperate to prove themselves.
Most 3-pointers this playoffs (remaining players only):— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 16, 2023
42 — Jayson Tatum
33 — Jaylen Brown
32 — Jamal Murray
30 — Malcolm Brogdon
29 — Marcus Smart
28 — Michael Porter Jr
27 — Derrick White
All Celtics and Nuggets. pic.twitter.com/fpGmzaeF1D
“Everything,” said Brown when asked how much last year’s Finals loss played into the team’s preparation. “We remember last year vividly. We lost in the Finals, and that set the mood for our whole year this year, and we’re looking to get back to the place we were last year.” With all of the hurdles this year has thrown at them between coaching drama, injuries and changing strategies, Boston has fared far better than anyone could have expected, especially given the circumstances. Now, they sit four wins away from returning to the big stage once more, with a familiar (yet changed) foe standing in their way.
“I mean, they’ve got a different team in a sense,” said Brown on the Miami Heat. “They’ve got some injuries, some guys are playing better than they were last year. It’s not the same team as last year. Jimmy is still Jimmy, and Spo is still Spo, but we’ve got to make sure that we are aware of everybody else. Kevin Love, some of the new guys they got, some of the other guys they’ve been playing a lot better. Strus, Duncan Robinson’s playing in this series, so we just got to be alert.”
Without Tyler Herro most likely until late in the series if at all and Victor Oladipo out the remainder of the season, Miami has had to turn to guys like Duncan Robinson and Max Strus more in order to get by. Both players are sharpshooters, and in Robinson’s case, the opportunity before him is to regain some trust and minutes on the team after taking a back seat in favor of others.
Our goal is to be the tougher team as we prepare for the ECF. pic.twitter.com/jaVLhCWoHP— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 16, 2023
Back in 2020, Robinson’s lights out shooting was a huge part in Miami making the Finals, but after getting a big contract extension, Robinson’s effectiveness overall play diminished. Herro and Oladipo’s absences have given him a window of opportunity. Familiarity with most of the roster aside, the Celtics are facing a new opponent in the Heat, who play very different to what they saw against the 76ers.
“We’ve got to reset,” said Brown, “We’ve got to rest to play, it’s a different team. We’re just going to come with a different strategy, different mindset to kind of get over the hump. So, we’ve just got to be ready. They’ve been coming in hot, they’ve been playing really well, beat the number one team, beat a hungry New York Knicks team. and we’ve got to find a way to cool the Heat off.”
Jaylen Brown has ANOTHER message to Celtics fans ahead of Game 1 in Boston.— Celtics on CLNS (@CelticsCLNS) May 16, 2023
“Bring that same ENERGY. Bring the JUICE. The energy is about to SHIFT.”
Full Practice Interview: https://t.co/XuXhKaeTaI#Heat #NBAPlayoffs #NBA
⚡️by @FDSportsbook & @AthleticGreens pic.twitter.com/NgQmGGM8sV
When asked if he had a message for fans again after calling them out ahead of Game 7, Brown said, “just come with it. Bring that same energy. Bring the juice. The energy’s about to shift.”
The Celtics and Heat will tip off Game 1 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals tonight at 8:30 pm EST.