The Boston Celtics kick off the Eastern Conference Finals tonight against the 8-seed Miami Heat. Boston rode five straight dominant quarters from Jayson Tatum to big victories in Game 6 and 7, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 4-3. Miami took care of the New York Knicks in six games thanks to their staunch defense and big contributions from role players. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Celtics are 8-point favorites.
Spread: Boston Celtics -8
O/U: 211 points
ML: Celtics -375, Heat +300
Featured Parlay: Tatum 25+ points, Butler 25+ points, Adebayo 8+ rebounds, Smart 6+ assists, Brown 2+ made threes
The only injured Celtic heading into this series is Danilo Gallinari, who has missed the entire season recovering from ACL surgery. He is out tonight.
Miami has gotten to this point without two major depth pieces, and they’ll be without them again. Victor Oladipo (knee) is out for the Playoffs after receiving surgery in late April, and Tyler Herro (hand) hasn’t resumed dribbling or shooting yet. Cody Zeller (illness) also sat out of practice on Monday with an illness, and is listed as day-to-day. It appears he’ll be likely to go tonight.
Celtics Projected Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Heat Projected Starters
PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo
Boston Celtics Overview
Boston overcame a Philadelphia team that played them tough until the second half of Game 7, and will face an even tougher team in the ECF. Miami doesn’t have the offensive talent the Sixers do, but they have loads of Playoff experience and a tough zone defense that befuddled the Knicks in the second round. Perimeter shooting, therefore, is vital this series. Boston will need to shoot threes at a high percentage if they want to make life easy on offense. This is something they’ve been doing well as a team so far, but there’s some room for improvement, especially from Al Horford. Horford had one strong game in the second round, but struggled otherwise, shooting 11-40 across seven games from deep. If he can effectively space the floor, he can draw Bam Adebayo away from the rim, really harming Miami’s edge on defense and on the glass.
On defense, the double big starting lineup with Horford and Robert Williams III should come in handy again. While Jimmy Butler is obviously the main guy to focus on, Adebayo can’t be overlooked on the offensive end. In the second round, he averaged a very efficient 18.7 points-per-game with 3.3 offensive rebounds. When matched up 1-on-1 with Mitchell Robinson, Bam took him to task with his mid-range jumper as well. Limiting his presence on the offensive end — as well as any guard trying to score at the rim — will be big in halting a Miami Heat offense that doesn’t have much momentum in the first place.
Miami Heat Overview
The Heat are on a tear, and will make some of these games a real grind for Boston. However, if their offense performs like it did against the Knicks, they won’t be much of a threat to win the series. They ranked last in field goal percentage and second to last in three point percentage last round, a far cry from how they played against the Milwaukee Bucks. On top of that, they averaged 104.3 ppg, only cracking 110 points once. Their defense and physicality is certainly no joke, but the biggest challenge for them this series will be matching the pace of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the rest of the Boston Celtics.
Their role players who hit timely shot after timely shot (Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson) will need to keep up their production, but Jimmy Butler will make or break how far they go. After going nuclear in Round 1, Butler averaged a fairly quiet 24.6 ppg in Round 2, not looking to score quite as much. That’s not to say he wasn’t fantastic when playing — his ability to set up teammates for open threes killed the Knicks in multiple games — but in this series, the Heat will need Playoff Jimmy’s scoring touch. Unless Butler’s ankle injury is still hindering him, expect him to step up and take over the 4th quarter when needed. If he can’t, Miami is in serious trouble.
I think the Heat will be a tough test for the Celtics, and I think even if their offense doesn’t massively improve, they’ll find a way to win some games. However, I don’t think that will happen tonight. Boston has had issues playing hard out of the gate, but with the two huge victories they just got to keep their season alive, I think they’ll be amped up on the defensive end, leading to smooth offense. I’m taking the Celtics tonight in a big Game 1 victory.