These teams have done this dance before on this stage.
The Heat and Celtics most met in the postseason in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals – the bubble season – and they were famous in the East Finals in 2012, when each team was led by a Big 3.
Now they stand in each other’s way with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake. Miami is the No. 1 seed and has the home advantage, but Boston is the betting favorite to win the series.
How should you bet on this series? Here’s what you need to know about each team, their recent match history and what the odds tell us.
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No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 1 Miami Heat
Series winner: Celtics (-175) | Heat (+145)
Series handicap: Celtics -1.5 (+106) | Heat +1.5 (-130)
Game 1: Tuesday, May 17, 8:30 PM ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Thursday, May 19, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Saturday, May 21, 8:30 PM ET (ABC)
Game 4: Monday, May 23, 8:30 PM ET (ABC)
Game 5: Wednesday, May 25, 8:30 PM ET (ESPN)*
Game 6: Friday, May 27, 8:30 PM ET (ESPN)*
Game 7: Sunday, May 29, 8:30 PM ET (ESPN)*
The core of the teams that played in 2020 remains. For Boston, that’s Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are the remnants of the Miami team that went to the finals two season ago.
Boston won the regular season series 2-1, although Miami won the most recent meeting. The Celtics won 95-78 in November and 122-92 at the end of January. The Heat won 106-98 on March 31, the last time these teams played.
The Heat is the highest remaining seed in the post season, although the recent history of No. 1 seeds in the East winning – or even making the final – doesn’t bode well for them. The last time the top team in the Eastern Conference even made it to the finals was the 2015-16 Cavaliers, who won the title that season.
Despite Boston being the favorite in the series, Miami is a 1.5 point favorite in Game 1 at home.
Miami is tied with Boston and Golden State for the best postseason record at 8-3. The Heat holds the largest points difference in the playoffs (+9.6), the second best offensive rating and best defensive rating of the four remaining teams and the number 1 overall net rating.
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Saying Miami has the No. 1 defensive rating almost doesn’t do the team justice. It only allows 97.5 ppg and has taken opponents under 100 points seven times. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s squad keeps teams at one of the lowest three-point shooting percentages in the playoffs and is second in the postseason in steals per game and forced turnover. Joint efforts to make life difficult for Trae Young in the first round and James Harden and an hampered Joel Embiid in the semis showed what this unit can do to slow some of the game’s top scorers, but Miami may have less success against a Celtics team that is much deeper than either of the first two opponents.
If the Heat can’t limit Boston in the same way they can against Atlanta and Philadelphia, it’s up to them to match the C’s. Nothing they’ve shown so far should inspire confidence in a possible shooting scenario. Only one Miami player is on average better than 15 ppg. That would be Butler (28.7 ppg), one of the MVPs from the entire playoffs so far leading the team in scoring in six of the 10 games he played.
Adebayo’s score is low, Herro has lagged far behind the game that earned him sixth man of the year and Kyle Lowry, who probably won’t play in Game 1, was limited by a hamstring injury that forced him to miss more than half of his team’s games. The Heat was also the No. 1 regular season three-point shooting team at 37.9%. That number dropped to 32.1% in the post-season, as Herro, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent were all cold. When the Heat looked most vulnerable against the 76ers was when they were shot outside the arc in Games 3 and 4. It is imperative for Miami to improve its three-point shooting against Boston.
The Celtics have arguably the most impressive resume in the playoffs yet — all due respect to the Mavericks. Boston defeated Brooklyn, who opened the series as favorites, then turned and defeated defending champion Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Computer odds have been high for this team since before the playoffs started. FiveThirtyEight gives the Celtics a 70% chance to make it to the finals and a 47% chance to win it all. Much of that bullish projection was Boston’s best regular-season defense, anchored by big man Robert Williams III. The fourth-year pro has appeared in just five games in the playoffs, played no more than 25 minutes, and the Celtics still hold the No. 3 defensive rating in the postseason, despite going head-to-head in successive rounds against Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo. Boston also has the second best points difference in the playoffs (+6.6) behind only Miami.
Coach Ime Udoka has been able to rely on the resurgent Al Horford and sharp-shooting Grant Williams to defend the opposition. And on the wings, opponents will face Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, the nasty Derrick White and the slender Tatum. The Celtics allow the lowest three-point percentage of the opponent in the playoffs (32.9%).
Boston has proven to be a much better three-point shooting team in the playoffs than Miami and has more than one scoring threat to worry about. Tatum averages 28.3 ppg with 6.1 assists. He has five 30-point games this postseason, including a 46-point outburst in Game 6 against the Bucks who are about to be eliminated. His backcourt, Brown, adds 22.2 ppg to the equation and then Smart, Horford and Grant Williams fall in line behind those two, each in double digits.
Rebounding could be the downfall of the Celtics. It was almost against Milwaukee where an offensive rebound and put back almost changed the series. Boston has a rebounding difference of -2.2 in the playoffs where Miami is +3.7. For what it’s worth, the Celtics won the rebounding battle in every regular season game against the Heat.
BET: Celtics Moneyline (-175)
The team Boston is trotting against Miami this time is much better than what it had in 2020. Tatum is fully capable of being the best player in this series, even considering how well Butler plays. I think the three-point shooting advantage for the Celtics will be very important in this series, along with their ability to defend Adebayo, who will be much easier to guard after fighting Antetokounmpo for seven games.
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