The playoffs are heating up and the daily preview takes it to the rim with NBA tips for the Eastern Conference Finals series opener between Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
10:30 (AEST), Wed 18th May @ FTX Arena, Miami
History: Played 152: Celtics 88 V Heat 64
Last meeting: March 30, 2022: Heat 106 d Celtics 98 at TD Garden
Final Thoughts: The Eastern Conference Finals get underway with the top-seeded Miami Heat slight favourites at home against Boston Celtics in Game 1.
The Heat have progressed via a 4-1 First Round defeat of the Hawks and ultimately comprehensive six-game triumph over the 76ers. Miami took a 2-0 lead against the Sixers before losing twice in Philly. But they powered away with a 35-point home win in Game 5 and closed it out 99-90 on the road.
Jimmy Butler took control of the series and averaged 32 points in the last four games. Big man Bam Adebayo combated Joel Embiid impressively in the Semi-finals and will enjoy some extra leeway at both ends of the court here. Tyler Herro hasn’t been the bench force we’ve become accustomed to, producing well below his regular season average of 20.7 points in the playoffs.
Key Miami piece Kyle Lowry remains sidelined with injury, while starters Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and PJ Tucker are under clouds.
After sweeping the Nets, the second-seeded Celtics emerged from a gruelling series against the Bucks in seven games despite trailing on three occasions. Boston saved the series with a 108-95 Game 6 win in Milwaukee on the back of Jayson Tatum’s 46 points, before closing out the defending champs at home 109-81.
The Celtics hit a Game 7 record 22 three-pointers – including seven from Grant Williams among a career-high 27 points. Jaylen Brown and Al Horford both had 30-point nights in a huge series against the Bucks. Marcus Smart (foot) is questionable for Game 1.
Both teams have marquee talent – most notably Butler and Tatum – but are similar in the sense that they rely heavily on vital contributions from several role players. The regular season finished 2-1 in the Celtics’ favour, but the Heat won the most recent clash. The Celtics carved out a 95-78 win in Miami in November and a 122-92 blowout in Boston in January. The Heat responded with a 106-98 victory at TD Garden in late-March.
The franchises have a rich playoffs history, squaring off in the Eastern Conference Finals three times in the previous 11 seasons – with Miami prevailing on each occasion. The Heat downed the Celtics in six games in 2020 with Adebayo and Herro especially prominent.
Miami are 35-12 at home this season (26-21 ATS) – and have won all six games at FTX Arena in the playoffs, five by double-digit margins. Boston are 27-19 on the road this season (and an NBA-best 30-15-1 ATS), including 4-1 in the playoffs.
The Celtics and Heat were top-four defensive teams in the regular season and have continued that elite form on the defensive end through the playoffs. The under shapes as a solid option, hitting in five of the Celtics’ last seven and nine of the Heat’s last 11.
Expect an absorbing defensive war as the teams feel each other out at the start of what should be an epic series. I’m leaning towards the Heat to draw first blood at home but would be surprised with anything but a tight margin.