30/05/2024

Jayson Tatum has had a stellar season for the Celtics (Photo: Erik Drost / Wikimedia Commons)

The ultimate grudge series headlines a fascinating slate of first-round matchups. 

If recent years are anything to go by, this series is set to be an instant classic. Boston have sat head and shoulders above the rest this season, however the Miami Heat should never be discounted. 

A bogey side for the Celtics, Miami have proven that all they need to contend for the championship is a spot in the playoffs. 

Can Boston avenge their previous losses, or will the Miami Heat reign supreme yet again? 

Context

The Boston Celtics have been the best regular season team over the last three years. With two 50-plus win seasons prior to 2023/24, Boston finally held the league-best record this year. A record of 64-18 saw the Celtics have their winningest season in 16 years. 

Breaking numerous records in the process, Boston sat 14 games clear on top of the Eastern Conference standings, the biggest gap since 1976. 

However, despite their in-season success, Joe Mazzulla’s men have struggled in the postseason. The bulk of their playoff struggles in the last seven seasons have come against the Miami Heat. Facing off against each other in three of the last four playoff campaigns, Boston have only advanced once against the Heat.  

This time around, the Celtics have added some more firepower. The inclusions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis heightens the scope of an outfit who was already a championship contender.  

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were at their scintillating best throughout the regular season, averaging 50 points and 14 rebounds per game. They led an effective starting five who all averaged in double digits for points. Porzingis protected the rim with ease blocking two shots per night. 

As for the Miami Heat, they struggled to generate anywhere near the same offensive output as Boston. Averaging the fifth-lowest points per game at 110.1, Miami put severe pressure on its defence to win games. 

Their defence was able to weather the storm. Conceding the third-fewest points per game, Miami put themselves in the playoff picture via the play-in tournament. Bam Adebayo was a key contributor defensively, pushing his case for Defensive Player of the Year. The big man was also selected as a late starter for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game, replacing Joel Embiid

Miami managed to book a spot in the playoffs without Jimmy Butler who is expected to miss several weeks due to injury. Butler sprained his MCL in the Heat’s 105-104 play-in loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The 34-year-old has been the barometer in previous series against the Celtics, however the prognosis outlines playing against the Celtics is unlikely. 

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Head-to-Head

Boston swept the Heat during the regular season, winning by an average margin of 15 points. 

The Celtics claimed their first victory during opening week, defeating Miami at TD Garden 119-111. Derrick White was the difference between the two sides, scoring 28 points, including a clutch three-pointer down the stretch to secure victory.

January’s encounter wasn’t as close. A 42-point opening term helped the Celtics to a 143-110 win. Seven players scored in double digits as Boston improved to 35-10.

Their final match was a tight affair as Joe Mazzulla’s men held off a late fightback from Miami. Tyler Herro scored 22 second half points; however it would be remiss as Tatum and Porzingis were ice cool from the line late. 

Key Matchup

Kristaps Porzingis v Bam Adebayo

While Jimmy Butler has been a proven threat in previous playoff series between the two teams, Bam Adebayo has also been dominant. 

The acquisition of Porzingis in the offseason was for these moments. Opposing big men has previously been Boston’s kryptonite due to their lack of potency down low. The shooting presence of Porzingis and his ability to stretch the floor will test Adebayo, potentially being advantageous for the Celtics. 

Porzingis is averaging just over 20 points in the three outings against the Heat this season. 

Prediction: Celtics in 5

Although Miami’s defence has been sound this season, Boston ranks amongst the best attacking teams for 2023/24. 

Boston have prepared nearly 12 months for this matchup and are more equipped to take on the Heat this time around. The exclusion of Jimmy Butler will hurt the Heat as he has been their go-to guy in past triumphs. 

Expect the series to be a short one if Butler is unavailable. 

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