It’s Heat-Celtics again in East finals (third time in four years), starting Wednesday in Boston
MIAMI – A year after falling one Jimmy Butler 3-point attempt short of defeating the Boston Celtics for a berth in the 2022 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat will get another shot.
With the Celtics defeating the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 112-88 in Game 7 of that Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday, the Heat will meet the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in the last four seasons.
For the first time in the three matchups, the Celtics will have homecourt advantage in the best-of-seven series played on a 2-2-1-1-1 basis that opens Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at TD Garden.
When the Heat defeated the Celtics 4-2 in the 2020 East finals, those games were played on the neutral Disney World court amid the pandemic quarantine. The Heat had homecourt advantage last year, when they hosted and lost Game 7 100-96, with Butler’s all-or-nothing final-seconds 3-point attempt coming up short.
The Celtics advanced Sunday powered by a 51-point performance from Jayson Tatum, who was supported by 25 points from Jaylen Brown.
The game ended with chants in TD Garden of “Beat the Heat!”
“That’s a team we’re extremely familiar with, third time in four years playing them in the playoffs” Tatum said after his dynamic performance. “They’re a very well-coached team. They compete with the best of them. They play hard. They defend. They make plays. And they figure out a way to win games.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be highly competitive. It’s the best time of year, and we get to play them again.”
Brown downplayed the rematch aspect.
“Nothing about last year matters,” he said. “I don’t think Miami’s thinking about last year.”
But he also appreciated potential such Heat motivation.
“If anything,” he said of the Heat, “atone for last year.”
The teams have a rich playoff history over the past two decades. After the Celtics eliminated the Heat 4-1 in the 2010 opening round, the Heat responded by adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade. With their Big Three, the Heat then defeated the Celtics 4-1 in the 2011 East semifinals and 4-3 in the 2012 East finals. That was followed by a postseason hiatus until Butler joined the Heat in the 2019 offseason, with three matchups following in Butler’s four Heat seasons.
The Heat advanced to the East finals by defeating the Knicks 4-2, closing out that series with a 96-92 victory Friday at Kaseya Center, giving them four days off before opening the series against the Celtics.
The Heat went 2-2 this season against the Celtics, with revised mixes for both teams since Boston eliminated the Heat in last season’s East finals. In the interim, the Celtics added Malcolm Brogdon, Blake Griffin and Mike Muscala, among others, with Joe Mazzulla replacing Ime Udoka as coach. Since the teams met in last year’s playoff matchup, the Heat have added Kevin Love and Cody Zeller, among others.
The Celtics enter healthy. The only player on their injury report is forward Danilo Gallinari, who has been sidelined by a knee injury before joining the Celtics in the offseason in a salary-cap move.
The Heat, however, are without guard Tyler Herro, due to a broken hand suffered in the first half of the first game of their playoff opener, and guard Victor Oladipo, who is out following a knee injury in the Heat’s third game of the first round.
The series likely will take on a different look than the regular-season meetings. Butler missed two of the regular-season games and Love did not join the Heat until the four matchups were completed. In addition, the Celtics did not have Al Horford and Robert Williams, their starting power rotation the last two games against the 76ers, available together for any of the four games against the Heat.
The Celtics are well aware of the level Butler has played this postseason.
“Jimmy’s one of the best players in the world,” Brogdon said. “I think he’s proven that time and again once he gets to the playoffs. That’s an extremely well-coached team over there.
“I think where the game lies for us, for them, is who is going to out-tough.”
The winner of the Heat-Celtics series will meet the winner of the Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets. The NBA Finals open June 1.
Should the Heat advance to the NBA Finals, they would be the visiting team against the Nuggets and the home team against the Lakers, by virtue of finishing one game better during the regular season.
The Heat closed the regular season at 44-38, the Celtics at 57-25, the Nuggets at 53-29 and the Lakers at 43-39.
The Heat are the second No. 8 seed to advance to the conference finals, joining the 1999 New York Knicks. They are the first No. 8 to advance this far from a full 82-game season. The 1999 Knicks advanced in a lockout-shortened season.
It is the Heat’s 10th appearance in the conference finals in the Heat’s 35 seasons, all since Pat Riley took over stewardship of the franchise in 1995.