The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat open the Eastern Conference Finals at 6:30 p.m. EST, with Gordon Hayward officially listed as out for Boston. The Celtics hope to return Hayward in this series for the the first time since Game 1 of the 76ers series. The Heat's regulars enter the series healthy.
According to the sportsbook BETUS.com, the Celtics enter 1.5 point favorites over the Heat in Game 1. Boston (-135) is also a slight favorite to win the series over Miami (+115). Favorites are 44-24 outright in the NBA Playoffs and 36-30 against the spread.
- Celtics vs. Heat spread: Celtics -1.5
- Celtics vs. Heat over-under: 208.5 points
The last and only relevant game to this matchup between the Heat and Celtics ended with a dominant Miami closeout effort to win 112-106. Hayward sprinkled 15 points in the lane along with three assists, going at Miami's wings in a factor likely to loom large in this series if he returns like Brad Stevens predicted. It won't be tonight.
The Celtics are 7-3 without Hayward this postseason, able to easily discard of Philadelphia and integrate Marcus Smart into his role to beat the Raptors. Boston's closeout efforts in close games could be a point of caution against Miami. They gritted out stops and 10 offensive rebounds while forcing 18 Toronto turnovers, but the Celtics' half-court offense died in crunch time much like in their Game 3 and 4 losses.
Miami beat Boston with a mix of hustle and finesse on Aug. 4: an Andre Iguodala put-back, a first and second-chance three from Duncan Robinson, who then grabbed an offensive rebound ahead by four on Iguodala's free throw miss. Boston shot 2-for-9 in the final four minutes.
The Heat need to avoid turnovers, ranking in the bottom half of the league in giving the ball away, and try to blow up Jayson Tatum's pick-and-roll game as Toronto did. Both teams scored 15% of their points off turnovers this postseason. Miami t topped the league in three-point shooting, while Boston was the best spot-up shooting team overall. The Heat drew among the most free throws in the league, while the Celtics ranked top six in steals. Boston won all three rebounding battles against Miami.
Miami last played seven days ago, compared to four for the Celtics, whatever effect you feel that has.
While the perimeter battles play a crucial role in this series, the Celtics face a much larger challenge than what they saw from the lifeless Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka's 20 minutes per game inside in round two. Bam Adebayo is the best defensive center in the league, especially against a team like Boston. He can effectively switch and help around the Celtics' flurry of screens on a Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum.
Kelly Olynyk, the former Celtic, poses a challenge not unlike Ibaka for Robert Williams III in secondary minutes with his pick-and-pop game. The Heat also play two bigs occasionally, opening the door for Enes Kanter minutes for the first time since Philadelphia. Goran Dragic effectively hunted Kanter out on switches in August, though. This could end up being another Grant Williams series, especially with Hayward out in the early portions.
Daniel Theis, following a phenomenal series against Toronto, needs to avoid foul trouble. He barely played in the fourth quarter of Game 7. This opener will hardly determine the series, as few have in the NBA Bubble, but the Celtics enter flourishing on the wings and versatile. Marcus Smart's recent play will also heavily challenge Miami's weaker defender in rotation, along with Boston's defensive length in the half court. I do still want to see the Celtics close a game with shot-making though.
Boston 101, Miami 97.