The Celtics look to bounce back after a 123-116 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat will look to take a convincing 2-0 lead back to Miami. The Celtics lost the first game in the 2nd round to the 76ers and then bounced back for a blow out win in the second game. Last season, the Heat beat the Celtics in Game 1 but the Celtics came back to win Game 2 127-102. Teams that win the first game on the road win the series 50.5% of the time. But, teams that win the first 2 games on the road go on to win the series 85.0% of the time. Hopefully the Celtics will come out focused and even the series.
The Celtics led by as many as 13 points in the first half and finished the half with a 9 point lead over the Heat. They seemed to have the game well in hand until the 3rd quarter. In the third quarter, the Celtics took their foot off the gas and lost their focus. In particular, they stopped defending at a high level and when the Heat increased their intensity and their defense, the Celtics didn’t match it. The Heat outscored the Celtics 46-25 in the third quarter and that proved to be enough to win the game.
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 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.
For the Celtics, Malcolm Brogdon was added to the injury list with a forearm injury. He is listed as probable and will be a game time decision. Danilo Gallinari remains out as he rehabs from a torn ACL. For the Heat, Omer Yurtseven has been added to the injury list with a nose injury. He is listed as questionable. Victor Oladipo is listed as out with a knee injury. Tyler Herro is also listed as out with a hand injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Malcolm Brogdon (forearm) probable
Probable Heat Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo
2 Way Players
Tyler Herro (hand) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
Omer Yurtseven (nose) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Jimmy Butler
Butler had a big Game 1 of this series. He finished with 35 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals. He shot 48% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. When the Heat needed to score, Butler hit a big shot. More importantly, he is a good defender who is able to make things difficult for Jayson Tatum. Tatum had 30 points, but he did not take a shot in the 4th quarter. It’s tough for the Celtics to win if their best player disappears down the stretch.
Robert Williams III vs Bam Adebayo
In Game 1, Adebayo had 20 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal. He shot 69.2% from the field but 0% from beyond the arc. 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. Robert Williams started Game 1 and was great on offense but Butler had some success attacking him on the defensive end. We will have to see if he sticks with the double big starting lineup again in this game.
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 hit 3 big three pointers right after coming in the game on Wednesday. He finished with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He shot 50% from the field and 60% 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. Brogdon had a good game on Wednesday with 19 points. He is listed as probable for this game with a forearm injury. The Celtics need him to continue to play well on both ends of the court in this one.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the biggest key to winning every game and is even more important in the playoffs. The Celtics defense has been inconsistent so far in the playoffs and was inconsistent from the first half to the second half in Game 1. 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 allowed the Heat to shoot 65.4% from the field in the 3rd quarter of Game 1. The Heat shot 54.1% from the field and 51.6% from beyond the arc in Game 1 and the Celtics simply must play better defense in this game if they want to win.
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 had 35 rebounds in Game 1 to 34 rebounds for the Celtics. 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 12.2 turnovers, which is 3rd in the playoffs but they still have periods when they turn the ball over too much. In Game 1, they had 15 turnovers for 22 Heat points. 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. 10 of those 15 turnovers came from Jaylen Brown (6) and Jayson Tatum (4). The Celtics stars must be more focused and avoid those costly turnovers.
Urgency and Effort - These are the keys to winning this game. Just as after Game 1 of the 2nd round, after Game 1 of this series, the Celtics all talked about the lack of urgency and lack of effort on their part. The Heat play hard for 48 minutes and they don’t let up. Every player on their team plays hard and plays with urgency. The Celtics simply must play harder and they have to play with a bigger sense of urgency. The Heat win their games by playing harder than their opponents more than by having more talent. The Celtics talent won’t mean much if they aren’t the team that plays harder and is more aggressive.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics can’t play the right way and play hard in the first half and then let up and stop playing hard and lose their focus. They also can’t let the Heat play harder from the start and build a big lead because it is not easy to come back against this heat team because they are good on defense. The Celtics have to come out focused and play hard from the opening tip and keep up the effort and focus until the final buzzer with no let ups and no loss of focus.
Home Game - Home court hasn’t meant much for the Celtics in these playoffs. The Celtics are 4-4 at home so far in the playoffs and 4-2 on the road. The Heat are 5-0 at home so far and 4-3 on the road. 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. The Garden needs to be as loud as they were for Game 7 to cheer the Celtics to a win in this one.
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. There were a lot of questions about Joe Mazzulla’s coaching decisions in Game 1 and it would appear that Erik Spoelstra won the first meeting between the two. Can Mazzulla come back and make adjustments and make the right decisions to lead his team to a win in this one?
Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. Most of the refs are letting them play so far in these playoffs. 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.