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2023 Eastern Conference Final Preview: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics

Celtics Heat
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

2023 Eastern Conference Final Preview: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics

Ah yes, we meet again. For the third time in the last four seasons, the winner of the NBA’s Eastern Conference will be determined in a series between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. Last season, these two organizations met, with Boston narrowly edging out Miami in seven games. The trend skipped a year in 2021, while the Heat won the series in six in 2020.

Neither season, 2020 or 2022, did the winner of this series end up as the NBA Finals champions. It’s safe to say that Celtics-Heat has been a mainstay in the East for the past few seasons.

As for this year, these two squads met up four times in the regular season. The Celtics won the first two, with Miami winning the final pair of games. They haven’t played each other since January 24.

The Heat are somehow still alive, thanks in large part to Playoff Jimmy Butler, who has proved once again that he is not from this earth, dropping 31.1 points per game so far. Miami has become the first No. 8-seeded team to reach the conference finals since the 1999 New York Knicks. Speaking of the Knicks, it was New York that Miami defeated to get here in six games.

Throughout this most recent Heat-Knicks series, coaching and hustle made the biggest difference for the Heat. Miami either won or was competitive in every game of the series, a testament to their strong will as a team and their elite coaching at the hands of Erik Spoelstra. Let’s not forget that they made quick work of the team with the league’s best regular season record, the Milwaukee Bucks, in five games.

Boston being here is far less surprising. They are very widely regarded as having the best roster in the entire league. The Celtics came up two games short of an NBA title last season.

Throughout 2022-23, particularly the first half of the season, it was almost destiny that Boston would return back here. Though they didn’t perform great down the stretch, they were able to land as the two seeds heading into the playoffs.

The C’s defeated the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. After that, they would then wage war with the Philadelphia 76ers, who had Boston on the ropes down 3-2, before Philly imploded in their last five quarters of the season. In those five quarters, Jayson Tatum, the Celtics’ best player, scored an unreal 67 points to help lead the Celtics to victory.

Even though the Celtics and Heat have a past, I don’t think anyone on either side is thinking about that. The time is now.

“Nothing about last year matters,” Celtics star Jaylen Brown said after Game 7 on Sunday. “I don’t think Miami is thinking about last year. I think they’re coming out and ready to play basketball. If anything, atone for last year. So we’ve just got to come out with a great fresh mind and execute.”

Starting Lineups + One Question:

Gabe Vincent and Max Strus have made for an unlikely starting duo. The two play above their weight and paycheck. Speaking of an unlikely starter, Kevin Love’s playoff experience has been valuable for Miami in their rotation. Of course, Butler and Bam Adebayo round out the starting five. Let’s not forget about Caleb MartinKyle Lowry, and lethal shooter Duncan Robinson as well.

Looking up and down this rotation, my key question for Miami comes on defense; who on earth is going to guard Tatum? Last year, it was P.J. Tucker, who is long gone now. You can stick Love on him, but if the Celtics go big (like they did in Games Six and Seven against Philly) then you need Love down low. Spoelstra can put Strus on him, but the size advantage is not one that you love if you’re Miami. I would assume that these are the two most likely scenarios for the Heat. Of all the things that need to happen for Miami to win this series, neutralizing (or at least slowing down) Tatum is a key piece of the puzzle.

Along with the big stars in Tatum and Brown, the Celtics coach Joe Mazzula rolled out Robert Williams, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart as the starting five in games six and seven. This was against the trend that Boston used during the regular season when the smaller Derrick White would start. Not to mention that the Celtics have the sixth man of the year in Malcolm Brogdon. This rotation is really deep.

The Celtics had several games against Philadelphia where they simply could not make any shots. Game 5 of that series saw Horford go 0-for-7, Brown shoot 3-for-8 on free throws and Brogdon go 3-for-9 from the field, just as an example.

The Celtics can get into lulls of bad offense sometimes, and no one is immune to it, not even Tatum or Brown. Just look at Game 6 against Philadelphia, where Tatum had one point going into halftime. My biggest question has to be here. Can this team avoid the bad shot, find an open teammate and play to the best of their ability? If they do, they have a great chance. Boston doesn’t want to leave the door open for this Heat team.

Betting Odds:

As we’ve discussed, the Celtics are massive favorites entering this series. DraftKings Sportsbook agrees, with Boston having -535 odds to win the series. The Heat have +400 odds. That’s an implied probability of 84.25 percent to win the series.

ESPN Analytics is giving Boston a whopping 96 percent chance to advance to the NBA Finals. Now, I wouldn’t go that far, but it shows you how highly Boston is regarded in the oddsmaker’s eyes.


Here is the schedule for the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals between Miami and Boston.

Game 1Wednesday, May 17TD Garden (Boston)8:30 pmTNT
Game 2Friday, May 19TD Garden (Boston)8:30 pmTNT
Game 3Sunday, May 21Kaseya Center (Miami)8:30 pmTNT
Game 4Tuesday, May 23Kaseya Center (Miami)8:30 pmTNT
Game 5*Thursday, May 25TD Garden (Boston)8:30 pmTNT
Game 6*Saturday, May 27Kaseya Center (Miami)8:30 pmTNT
Game 7*Monday, May 29TD Garden (Boston)8:30 pmTNT
*-if necessary


Celtics in 6

Listen, to say that the Heat are the underdog in this series would be a massive understatement. At the end of the day, I don’t think they have anyone that can guard Jayson Tatum. Miami was probably rooting for Philadelphia in their Game 7 since Boston is just too strong for them. They’ve proven they can win series against good opponents. What a run for Miami it was, but I think it ends here.

The Heat could pull it out under wild circumstances. As of right now, I have to agree with Vegas in saying that the odds of that happening are extremely low. This Heat-Celtics series should be very interesting, who do you think prevails?


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