Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:53 AM

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

The third-seeded Celtics and fifth-seeded Heat square off in the Eastern Conference finals beginning Tuesday at Advent Health Arena on the Disney campus in Lake Buena Vista, FL just outside of Orlando. Caesars and BetMGM have Boston as a 1.5-point favorite for Game 1 as of Saturday afternoon with the total set at 211.5.

FanDuel sportsbook made Boston a slight favorite at -118 to advance to the NBA Finals while listing Miami at -104, so perception is that this series is basically a pick’em. The Eastern Conference finals participants are listed as the long shots to win the championship according to the VegasInsider futures page since both L.A. teams have been considered the favorites to win it all most of the season.

The Celtics and Heat have already met once in the bubble during the seeding games portion. Miami defeated Boston 112-106 on Aug. 4 to avoid losing all three regular-season meetings and did so without the services of All-Star Jimmy Butler, who was nursing a sore ankle. Big man Bam Adebayo and shooter Duncan Robinson each scored 21 points while Goran Dragic added 20 points off the bench.

The Heat led by as much as 16 points in the first half and withstood a 16-3 third-quarter run to hang on to their lead and ultimately pull away. Adebayo commented that avoiding an 0-3 effort against Boston was a motivating factor, which now seems even more prescient as the teams square off with a Finals appearance on the line. All three regular-season matchups came in ‘under’ the posted total.

Celtics-Heat Regular-Season Meetings

  • 12/4 Celtics (-5.5) 112 Heat 93
  • 1/28 Celtics (+2) 109 Heat 101
  • 12/4 Heat (+5) 112 Celtics 106

Celtics to be at Full Strength Soon

Gordon Hayward started that contest but hasn’t played since spraining his ankle in Game 1 of Boston’s first-round series against the 76ers with roughly three minutes remaining after landing on teammate Daniel Theis’ foot. He hasn’t played since, even leaving the bubble to receive treatment, but he returned to Orlando and cleared quarantine earlier this week.

Hayward took the court prior to Game 7 of Boston’s win over Toronto and was moving around and shooting, which suggests we’ll see him out there sooner than later in these Eastern Conference finals. Marcus Smart took his place in the starting lineup and comes off a tremendous series against the Raptors in which he averaged 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists, averaging over 39 minutes per game.

Smart fouled out in the third quarter of Boston’s most recent meeting with Miami, finishing with just three points while going 0-for-5 from the field with one board and no assists. His impact helping defend Butler and Dragic could be a determining factor in this series whether he remains in the starting lineup ahead of Hayward or returns to his sixth man role.

Formidable Miami Playing its Best

Dragic was coming off the bench when these teams saw one another last month but has since moved into the lineup ahead of rookie Kendrick Nunn. Dragic averaged 21.5 points and 3.5 assists over two matchups with Boston despite shooting just 20 percent from beyond the arc.

Butler averaged 28.5 points while shooting just under 43 percent from 3-point range in two losses against the Celtics, adding six boards and three assists. Adebayo participated in all three matchups and averaged 15.0 points and 9.7 rebounds but comes in playing his best basketball of the season after helping contain two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Heat’s upset of the top-seeded Bucks. The first-time All-Star averaged 17.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists against Milwaukee.

Shooters Robinson and Tyler Herro must have strong performances to take advantage of Boston’s defense when it packs the paint as Brad Stevens likes to do. Herro shot just 26.7 percent from 3-point range and averaged just 7.3 points against the Celtics over Miami’s three regular-season meetings, coming up with barely half the scoring production he managed over the course of 55 contests. Robinson was much more productive, averaging 14.3 points while shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Once 40-to-1 at the Westgate to win it all when play in the Orlando bubble began, the Heat are now 5-to-1 to win their third NBA title in a nine-year span. Jay Kornegay and his staff had Miami at 14-to-1 to win the Eastern Conference on July 27 but opened this week as a 5-to-4 choice, making them the favorite over Boston and Toronto prior to their Game 5 showdown earlier this week. The Heat were +350 at Westgate to upset the Bucks in their East semifinal series. Miami was 9-to-1 to come out of the conference and 25-to-1 to win it all just last week.

Tatum, Brown Seek Elevated Status

Jayson Tatum scored 29 points in both the sixth and seventh games of the semifinal series against the Raptors and averaged 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the series. He’s made eight of his last 16 3-pointers. Over the course of two regular-season meetings, Tatum shot just 40 percent against Miami, averaging 21.0 points and 6.0 rebounds.

Jaylen Brown shot nearly 50 percent over three matchups with Miami, shooting just under 41 percent from beyond the arc. He averaged 24.7 points and 5.7 rebounds and also figures to see a lot of Butler in what should be a terrific individual matchup. Brown’s defense against Toronto’s Pascal Siakam played a huge role in Boston’s series win. He chipped in 20.7 points and 8.7 rebounds against the Raptors and is having a terrific run in the bubble.

Boston went small against Toronto often and is expected to keep Daniel Theis in the starting lineup, but Enes Kanter and Robert Williams may play a larger role in this series since Miami typically employs a traditional center in its lineup. That could help bog down the action and lead to the low side prevailing once again in this pairing. The ‘under’ went 6-1 in Boston’s games against Toronto and is 9-2 in its playoff games. The lone outlier in the Raptors series occurred in the Celtics’ Game 6 double-overtime loss. Had that game ended in regulation, the ‘under’ would have cashed too.

The ‘under’ is 8-3 in Miami’s playoff contests in the bubble after a 3-2 run against the Bucks, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the closing number ends up around 210. Veteran guard Kemba Walker will be playing in a conference finals for the first time after spending the bulk of his career in Charlotte. Walker comes in slumping, having shot just 7-for-27 while averaging just 9.5 points per game over the last two contests against Toronto. He shot nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc against the Heat this season.

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