Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat Matchup Preview (5/17/22)
The Boston Celtics battle the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night. This appearance is now their third Conference Finals in the Jayson Tatum era, which has only been in existence for five seasons. Boston enters this matchup after defeating the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks 4-3. In a win-or-go-home Game 7, the Celtics handled the Bucks 109-81 behind Grant Williams and his 27 points on 7 3PM. For the playoffs, Boston owns a 112.5 Offensive Rating and 105.2 Defensive Rating. Miami is no stranger to Boston, as they faced off in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. Miami bested them then, but Boston will seek revenge and look to clinch their first Finals appearance since 2010. They will begin this series without Marcus Smart and Al Horford, unfortunately, as they are both out. Derrick White and Grant Williams will likely start in their places.
The Heat sent Joel Embiid and James Harden home by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2. They won 99-90 in Game 6 behind Jimmy Butler’s 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. Across the playoffs, they have a 114.4 Offensive Rating and 104.6 Defensive Rating. Miami acquired Butler in free agency during the 2019 offseason; they have been successful since. The Heat lost 4-2 to the Lakers in the 2020 Finals, and they now are back in the Conference Finals. Kyle Lowry is out for Game 1 against the Celtics due to a lingering hamstring issue, so Gabe Vincent will get the start. Miami’s depth is strong enough to promote Vincent without losing any edge from their bench unit.
Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat Betting Odds
The spread is set at -4 Heat, and I like the Heat to cover. Smart and Horford are out, which will drastically weaken the Celtics defense. The thin Celtics bench now becomes barren from this development as well, which is not optimal considering Miami is extraordinarily deep. The Heat have also had four full days of rest compared to one for the Celtics. Miami is 5-1 in Game 1’s during the Butler era because they start strong, which cannot always be said of the Celtics. The Heat are 35-12 at home this season (including a 6-0 mark in the playoffs) and 26-20 away (including a 2-3 mark in the playoffs). Based on those records, the Heat are a 61-win team at home and 46-win team on the road. I believe Boston is narrowly the better team when healthy, but home-court, injuries, and rest give Miami the advantage in Game 1.
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Time: 8:30 PM ET
Arena: FTX Arena – Miami, FL
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Boston Celtics Starting Lineup
Boston Celtics Analysis
Robert Williams is ready for maximum minutes after missing the past four games. His defense will be crucial against Miami because he provides elite rim protection and the ability to switch on the perimeter. For the regular season, Williams ranked in the 91st percentile for Spot Up Defense on large volume. He also led the NBA in opponent FG% at a fantastic 40.2 FG%. Williams can stifle a Butler drive and quickly flash to the corner in order to stop a PJ Tucker shot attempt. His versatility will haunt the Heat all series and provide Horford some rest from guarding Bam Adebayo. Miami also has to contend with the elite perimeter defense of Smart, Brown, and Tatum. Their strength and length allow Boston to switch everything, which makes it extremely difficult for the offense to create space. Al Horford, who just guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo as well as anyone can, shuts down the paint and thrives in isolation defense.
Butler will find it laborious to drive into Williams and Horford. His outlets will only be open for milliseconds as Smart, Brown, and Tatum will ferociously close any passing lane. Off the bench, Grant Williams is a defensive weapon who can guard a variety of positions. Overall, the Heat cannot hope to play isolation offense and win the series. The top three players with the most possessions of isolation defense this postseason are Horford (44), Tatum (33), and Grant Williams (33). Williams is allowing a tiny 0.54 Points Per Possession on those plays, while Horford (0.63 PPP) and Tatum (0.72 PPP) have also been excellent. If Boston can consistently trot out their elite defense, then they will have the edge. They have more players who can create their own shot off the dribble, so suffocating the Heat will allow this advantage to shine in the long run.
Miami Heat Starting Lineup
Miami Heat Analysis
Jimmy Butler has been superb this postseason with an average of 28.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.4 APG, and 2.1 SPG on a 52.5 FG%. However, no other player is at 15 PPG, and the Heat have a 32.1 3PT%. Miami has been utterly reliant on Butler to create shots for himself and teammates, while normally excellent shooters have been disappointing. The Heat cannot win this series by relying on Butler this much because they face a dominant, deadly defense that snuffs out the opponent’s strengths. Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled with their individual offense against the Celtics this postseason, and Jimmy Butler is not at their level. Miami must get hefty contributions from others because even two creators is not enough to break this Boston defense. Irving/Durant and Holiday/Giannis couldn’t defeat the Celtics, so Miami needs a team effort here.
Butler and Adebayo don’t stretch the floor, and they will not be able to get high quality shots without Herro, Strus, Vincent, and Tucker keeping defenders honest on the perimeter. Herro is at a terrible 42/27/91 shooting split, which is not even close to good enough. Miami’s bench is superior to Boston’s, and this advantage can help cut or strengthen any lead. If the Heat bench struggles, then Boston’s starting lineup edge will take over the series. Herro’s shot creation off the dribble is paramount to their success, so he must return to regular season form and shred the opponent. Miami will take Game 1 if they defend the three-point line, stick Butler’s defense on Tatum, and resume their regular season perimeter shooting. The tools are there, but this series will be a monumental duel.