The Eastern Conference Finals are set.
After eliminating the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons. They are set to meet the Miami Heat, who are back in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2014.
With the No. 3 Celtics facing the No. 5 Heat, it's the first time in league history that the Eastern Conference Finals don't feature either of the conference's top two seeds, and we're here to set you up for what is sure to be an entertaining series.
NBA.com is your destination for complete coverage of every series from now through the end of the NBA Finals.
All times are still to be determined.
- Game 1 - Wednesday, Sept. 16
- Game 2 - Friday, Sept. 18
- Game 3 - Sunday, Sept. 20
- Game 4 - TBD
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Celtics won 2-1
Best game: Jan. 28, 2020 - Celtics 109, Heat 101
Best performance: Kemba Walker (Dec. 4, 2019) - 28 points (9-17 FG, 6-11 3FG), 7 AST, 4 REB, 2 STL
The first meeting between the Heat and Celtics this season came in early December, as Miami travelled to TD Garden with hopes of taking Boston down.
That was far from the case.
Down both Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart, the Celtics were led by 31 points from Jaylen Brown (on 10-for-20 shooting) while Kemba Walker added 28 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals. Jayson Tatum was the only other Celtic to finish in double figures, scoring 19 points despite shooting just 6-for-19 from the field and 2-for-12 from deep.
Beautiful. pic.twitter.com/IWhpgR6GxS- Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 5, 2019
For Miami, it was a lot of Jimmy Butler and not much else. Butler led all scorers with 37 points while shooting 12-for-18 from the field and tying a career-high with six made triples. Outside of Butler, the Heat scored just 56 points and shot 8-for-28 (28.5%) from beyond the arc.
🔥The Jimmy BUCKETS show continues 🔥#MIAvsBOS: @JimmyButler dropped 11 points in the 1st Q. pic.twitter.com/mg34AuG807- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 5, 2019
In late January, Boston travelled to AmericanAirlines Arena, where it would earn a 109-101 win despite being without Tatum.
In Tatum's absence, it was Hayward that led the way with 29 points (on 10-for-14 shooting) and nine boards while Brown added 25 points (on 10-for-16 shooting) and five assists. Walker struggled to get going, scoring 16 points (on 5-for-19 shooting), but did manage to dish out eight assists and pull down four boards.
Marcus → Jaylen → Gordon pic.twitter.com/TzrEOCtzFw- Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 29, 2020
Miami was led by 23 points off the bench from Goran Dragic while Butler added 20 points and six rebounds but couldn't find his 3-point stroke as he did in the first meeting. In fact, the Heat shot just 9-for-37 (24.3%) as a team from deep.
The third and final meeting between these two teams came just over a month ago during the seeding games of the NBA restart.
Without Butler in the lineup, Bam Adebayo (21), Duncan Robinson (21) and Dragic (20) combined to score 62 points in the Heat's 112-106 win over the Celtics.
REMINDER: @bam1of1 dominated Boston last night- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) August 5, 2020
🔥🎥 #HEATHighlights pic.twitter.com/uzEOEAlzoj
In this one, 3-point shooting was the difference as Miami shot 15-for-43 (34.9%) from beyond the arc while Boston was limited to just 10-for-33 (30.3%) shooting.
The Celtics were led by Tatum, who scored 23 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) while Brown turned in an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double despite shooting 9-for-23 from the field and 0-for-5 from deep. Walker, who was still on a minutes restriction at the time, added an efficient 15 points by shooting 4-for-7 from 3.
Key Storyline: Fatigue, minutes played and depth
While the Celtics were grinding out a seven-game series with the Raptors, leaving everything they had on the floor, the Heat were relaxing poolside for a handful of days as they awaited their Eastern Conference Finals opponent.
As is, Boston's bench is already shorter than Miami's. When you add in how taxing that previous series was, the Heat are setting themselves up nicely against a fatigued Celtics team.
Take a look at the total minutes played breakdown by each team's key players.
|Total Minutes Played||Celtics||Heat||Total Minutes Played|
This is where the return of Gordon Hayward could be monumental for Boston. (More on that below).
The Celtics exerted every bit of energy they had in the tank to get past Toronto. Can they dig even deeper to get past Miami and reach the NBA Finals?
Four Players to Watch
This is more of keeping an eye on if Hayward will be able to play.
Suffering a Grade 3 sprained ankle in Boston's first playoff game on Aug. 17, Hayward was ruled out for four to six weeks. After leaving the NBA's campus in Orlando for a brief period of time, Hayward has returned to the bubble and has been rehabilitating his injury, ramping up his workload in anticipation of returning to action.
He was spotted on the court prior to the Celtics' Game 7 against the Raptors - a good sign for Boston.
Gordon Hayward out shooting before the game 👀#Celtics pic.twitter.com/asYVh8Nn4q- Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) September 12, 2020
In two games against the Heat this season, Hayward averaged 22.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 55.6% from the field.
He would add much-needed fresh legs to a thin Boston lineup.
The Celtics frontcourt has been a talking point the entire season, and that won't change against the Heat and their All-Star centre.
Adebayo notched a double-double in two of his three meetings with Boston this season, although the Celtics were able to hold him to just eight points and seven rebounds in their final contest back in January.
Adebayo has been a monster this playoffs, stuffing the stat sheet with 16.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Through nine playoff games, Robinson has hit 24 triples at a 39.3% clip.
There's no doubt that Robinson is one of the league's best shooters and when he gets hot, it opens things up for the rest of Miami's offence. He went for 21 points in the Heat's lone win over the Celtics this season.
Smart did more than just step up in Boston's Conference Semifinals series with the Raptors. He put together a couple of the best performances of his career to help his team advance.
Smart scored 21 points to give Boston a jolt in their Game 1 win, knocked down five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and even had the first triple-double of his career in the Game 6, double-overtime thriller.
If Hayward returns to the lineup, can Smart continue to make the impact he has this playoffs?
Picks and Predictions
Gilbert McGregor: Celtics in six
Kyle Irving: Celtics in six
Scott Rafferty: Celtics in six
Carlan Gay: Celtics in seven
Alex Novick: Heat in seven
Yash Matange: Heat in seven
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