Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference finals preview capsule
Preview capsule for the Miami-Boston Eastern Conference finals series that starts Tuesday:
No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (53-29, 8-3) vs. No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (51-31, 8-3)
Season series: Celtics, 2-1.
Schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at Miami, Saturday and May 23 at Boston, May 25 at Miami if necessary, May 27 at Boston if necessary, May 29 at Miami if necessary.
Storyline: After getting past Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum now goes against Jimmy Butler to headline the series between the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the Eastern Conference. It’s the first 1 vs. 2 matchup in the conference finals since 2019, when Toronto knocked off top-seeded Milwaukee to win the East. The Heat and Celtics then met in the Eastern Conference finals the next season, with Miami winning in six games at Walt Disney World.
Key matchup: Butler vs. Tatum. Butler (28.7 points per game) and Tatum (28.3) are the Nos. 4 and 5 scorers in the postseason, with only Luka Doncic ahead of them among those who are still playing. Butler doesn’t have the diversity of Tatum’s offensive skills but is as good as anyone in the game at the things he does well. He has a pair of 40-point games already this postseason, one more than Tatum. Tatum, who scored 46 points with the Celtics facing elimination in Game 6 at Milwaukee, will be the focus of a Heat defense that has already slowed down high scorers Trae Young and James Harden thus far.
Injury watch: Miami starting point guard Kyle Lowry is expected to be out at least for the opener with the hamstring injury that sidelined him for the final two games against Philadelphia. Boston center Robert Williams didn’t play in the last four games against Milwaukee. He sat out three with knee soreness and then didn’t appear in Game 7, even though he was available in what coach Ime Udoka said would be only for certain situations.
Numbers of note: This the fifth playoff meeting between the teams. Miami has won the last three, two in the conference finals, after the Celtics took the first one in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. ... Boston is in the conference finals for the fourth time in the last six years, but the Celtics haven’t advanced further since falling in the 2010 NBA Finals. ... Butler is also leading all players in the postseason with 2.1 steals per game. ... Boston’s Al Horford is the career leader in postseason games without ever reaching the NBA Finals. He has played in 135. ... The Heat are 6-0 at home in the playoffs. The Celtics are 4-1 on the road.
Prediction: These are two top defensive clubs, so points will be tough to come by even for the best players. But the Celtics appear to have more weapons on the offensive side, as they showed while hitting 22 3-pointers to take Game 7 against the Bucks on Sunday. And if the defending NBA champions couldn’t stop them with two chances in the last round, it’s hard to see who can now. Celtics in 6.
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