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NBA Playoffs Preview Guide: #1 Miami Heat vs #2 Boston Celtics - Eastern Conference Finals

The heavyweight clash between the top two teams in the East finally arrives.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

It’s finally here, the match-up we’ve all been wanting to see when the top two seeded East teams go at it starting Tuesday with Game 1 set to tip-off at 8:30pm EST at the FTX Arena.

While the Boston Celtics may have won the season series 2-1 and finished the season as the NBA’s hottest team, it’s the Miami Heat who fought and clawed their way atop the Eastern Conference over the course of a complete, grueling 82-game season and never looked down.

Both teams pride themselves on defense, the Celtics wore down their opponents once they hit their stride in February and ended up as the top-ranked NBA defensive team. Though Boston had their fair share of roster setbacks in the regular season and are currently dealing with nagging injuries to two of their key players, Miami’s depth was severely tested during the season with major injuries to players such as Bam Adebayo and multiple COVID-related and personal absences. Miami finished fourth in the NBA in defensive rating, but it could have finished higher had players such as Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Kyle Lowry played more games.

Regardless, expect an all-out war on defense — which also means whichever team can find reliable outside shooting will surely emerge victorious.

“Pat’s [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Monday’s practice. “This is like a throwback series. If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins. That’s what you expect. Really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it’s fitting that we’re moving into the conference finals.”

After a satisfying 4-0 sweep of the overrated Brooklyn Nets in the first round, Boston was able to swing their second round series against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on the road in a pivotal Game 6 and eliminate them in seven on Saturday.

Unlike their previous playoff opponents the Atlanta Hawks or the Philadelphia 76ers could, the Celtics are more like the Heat in that they have star talent but have also been able to count on key contributions from supporting players to advance in the postseason. Boston dominated the league in their final 35 games thanks not only to All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum but also in part to players such as starting center Robert Williams III and his increased role as well as Grant Williams, who led the team with a career-high 27 points and hit seven 3-pointers in their blowout 109-81 Game 7 victory against the Bucks.

No surprise here, but injuries will play a huge role in a series between two evenly matched opponents. Mirroring each other, both starting point guards enter the series with huge question marks.

Kyle Lowry once again didn’t practice with the team on Sunday due to his hamstring injury and he is officially listed as out for Game 1. On the bright side, Gabe Vincent has stepped up in his place and played well as a starter while Victor Oladipo has taken advantage of the extra spot in the rotation to provide reliable minutes off the bench. Once Max Strus found his shot again, the Heat suddenly looked way more dangerous against the Sixers — able to not only provide scoring relief to Butler and Herro when the team struggles to score at times in the half court. (Who knows? Maybe the team will get a breakout game from Duncan Robinson.)

For Boston, the status of Marcus Smart for Game 1 is in question because of a mid-foot sprain suffered in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Smart “had an MRI on the foot Monday that came back clean, and that Smart will test the foot Tuesday.” Though big man Williams hasn’t played since Game 3 of the second round, he is expected to play in Game 1 without any minutes restrictions.

Given their torrid end to the regular season and their impressive postseason run, the Celtics arguably represent the biggest obstacle to the Heat’s quest for the 2021-22 NBA championship should they eventually win 16 games. Butler will have to be at the top of his game, of course, but so must the rest of the team and in fact some players like Herro or Adebayo will have to take over and make their mark on the game and the series to overcome the Celtics.

Eastern Conference Finals Schedule

GAME DATE MATCHUP TIME TV
GAME DATE MATCHUP TIME TV
Game 1 Tuesday, May 17 Boston @ Miami 8:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Game 2 Thursday, May 19 Boston @ Miami 8:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Game 3 Saturday, May 21 Miami @ Boston 8:30 p.m. ET ABC
Game 4 Monday, May 23 Miami @ Boston 8:30 p.m. ET ABC
Game 5* Wednesday, May 25 Boston @ Miami 8:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Game 6* Friday, May 27 Miami @ Boston 8:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Game 7* Sunday, May 29 Boston @ Miami 8:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Game Details

SERIES PREDICTION

Heat in seven

SERIES HISTORY

Miami and Boston have faced each other five times in their playoff history, with this year’s match-up representing the third consecutive time they meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat have won the last three series, most recently in 2020 in six games as well as in 2012 in a memorable seven game series. Just before the start of the Big 3 era in the summer of 2010, Boston eliminated Miami in the first round 4-1.

SEASON HEAD-TO-HEAD

SERIES RESULT: Boston won the regular season series 2-1

GAME 1:

Celtics embarrass Heat, 95-78

“Miami scored just nine points and committed 10 turnovers during a disastrous second quarter.”

The 6-1 Miami Heat came into Thursday night’s home game against the Boston Celtics with the best record in the East.

They didn’t play like it. (Maybe it was the new mashup uniforms?)

In an abysmal game all-around, the Heat scored just nine points in the entire second quarter to fall behind by 18 points entering halftime. Kyle Lowry, who had catalyzed the dynamic Heat offense, couldn’t stop the listless turnovers. In the midst of a 23-3 Celtics run, even Jimmy Butler missed both attempts during a trip to the foul line.

The Celtics humbled the Heat in a 95-78 decision that should lead everyone back to the drawing board. Boston defenders were better prepared for Lowry’s quick outlet passes, shutting off a key cog of Miami’s offense.

GAME 2:

Celtics thrash Heat, 122-92

“Max Strus was the sole bright spot for Miami.”

Monday night’s game in Boston started flat, as the Celtics quickly jumped out to an early lead against a Heat team that struggled to muster any semblance of an offense. And because of the Heat’s thin front-court, Erik Spoelstra played Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon together. (Later, Adebayo and Chris Silva played in tandem.) Miami only scored 14 points in the first 12 minutes. The Celtics scored 27.

The Heat’s sole bright spot came in the second quarter, when some hot shooting from Max Strus cut into the Celtics lead. Strus, actually, finished with eight made 3s — three of which came in the second period. He led Miami with 27 points on the night.

Of course, there’s no need to overreact to this loss. The Heat were missing three starters (Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and P.J. Tucker) and are in the midst of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch. Lowry and Butler are key cogs to Miami’s offense, and P.J. Tucker has been the perfect role player. But Adebayo and Herro need to elevate their games when circumstances call them to do so.

GAME 3:

Heat beat Celtics in nail-biter 106-98

The Heat and Celtics alternated leads often in a close first quarter, but it was the Celtics who’d take a six-point lead into the second on a small run built on transition buckets and Jayson Tatum. After a strong first quarter, this wasn’t how the Heat wanted to end things until Tyler hit a last-second three to cut the lead to six robbing Boston of momentum.

Miami had some huge stops down the stretch (we see you Max Strus), and though they struggled to convert on the other end initially they’d extend the lead slightly with some big buckets from Lowry and Jimmy. The Heat struggled in key possessions down the stretch, but with 33.6 seconds left and Miami ahead four, Strus drew a huge charge on Tatum to give Miami a shot to seal the game. Bam would go 3/4 from the line to end things in a huge Heat win.

INACTIVE/INJURIES

MIAMI:

  • Kyle Lowry (hamstring): out
  • Caleb Martin (ankle sprain): questionable
  • Max Strus (hamstring strain): questionable
  • P.J. Tucker (calf strain): questionable
  • Gabe Vincent (hamstring strain): questionable

BOSTON:

  • Marcus Smart (sprain): questionable
  • Sam Houser (shoulder): out

LINEUPS

Projected Starters

Wizards Position Heat
Wizards Position Heat
Bradley Beal PG Kyle Lowry
Kyle Kuzma SG Max Strus
Corey Kispert SF Caleb Martin
Deni Avdija PF Nikola Jovic
Kristaps Porzingis C Bam Adebayo

BROADCAST INFO

TV: ABC, ESPN (see series schedule for individual game info), Bally Sports - pregame and postgame shows
RADIO: The Ticket 790AM & The HEAT Radio Network (Jason Jackson, Ruth Riley Hunter)
SPANISH RADIO: WAQI 710AM & The HEAT Spanish Radio Network (José Pañeda, Joe Pujala)

Come back to Hot Hot Hoops at game time to join our GameThread and chat about the game live with other Heat fans!

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