The recent beasts of the East, the Heat and the Celtics are ready for the last showdown in the Conference Finals

BOSTON (AP) — From the pandemic to the qualifying tournament, little has stopped the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat from crossing paths in the Eastern Conference Finals recently.

When they announce Game 1 of their final playoff game on Wednesday night, it will mark the third Eastern Finals game between Miami and Boston in the past four seasons and second in a row after Boston won seven games in the last spring.

The Heat and Celtics still playing this late in the year can’t be a surprise anymore.

Yet despite all that familiarity, Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown sees a completely different Miami team than they survived a year ago.

“It’s not the same team as last year. Jimmy (Butler) is still Jimmy and Spo is still Spo,” Brown said of longtime Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “But we have to make sure we are aware of everyone.”

Everyone includes veterans with NBA Finals experience like Kevin Love, as well as players like Max Strus, who has been a consistent contributor since Tyler Herro was sidelined after breaking his hand. in Miami’s first-round series opener with Milwaukee.

But as the Celtics look to refocus after an emotionally draining seven-game streak with the 76ers, they know that stopping a Heat team that’s been rolling from the turn starts with trying to contain Butler.

“He’s not backing down. He doesn’t give up. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Brown said of Butler, who is averaging playoff career highs in points (31.1) and field goal percentage (52.7%). “We have to be ready for this challenge. We have great guys and good spirits on our team. So that should be fun.

The Celtics also have a pair of top scorers. First-team All-NBA selection Jayson Tatum (30.1 ppg) is coming off a postseason-best 51-point performance against the 76ers and has scored 30 or more points five times this postseason. Brown is averaging 26.6 points.

Don’t count out bullied Miami, though.

“It’s been a tough year, but we’re exactly where we want to be,” Strus said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about all season, being in this position. We’re delighted to be here and ready to take this opportunity.

The Heat’s season has not gone without major challenges. Miami didn’t have a day above .500 until mid-December, had a streak where it lost 12 of 20 games late in the regular season, lost a playoff to Atlanta and trailed in a playoff game against Chicago with 2:18 remaining.

“I wish I could have scripted this or said to the team on the first day of training camp, ‘Hey, we’re going to go through a lot this year and sometimes we’ll feel like we’re in basketball hell. -ball. And at the end of the day, we’re going to play Boston in the conference finals,” Spoelstra said.

The rallying cry seems to be simple: Boston beat Miami in this round last year, and now it’s up to the Heat to turn it around.

But Spoelstra insisted it didn’t matter.

“We have a very motivated group,” he said. “No, I don’t see the need. I think it played out. We look forward to this year’s challenge and the opportunity before us. »


It’s the 10th time in the past 14 years that the Heat, Celtics or both have been in the conference finals.

Boston and Miami have each been there seven times in that span – four times against each other.

In those 14 seasons, nine teams have made the Eastern Finals at least once. Exceptions: Detroit, Washington, New York, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Philadelphia.


The Heat have become known for using zone defensive sets to disrupt teams.

They will face a Celtics team that has had trouble against the zone throughout the regular season and playoffs.

The 76ers occasionally used it in their semi-final game against Boston, having the most success in Game 1 when they held the Celtics to 49 points in the second half of Philadelphia’s 119–115 win.

Coach Joe Mazzulla said it was something they were ready to tackle against Miami.

“You just have to play with the rhythm. I think it starts with our defence,” Mazzulla said. “You can’t pass open shots and you have to have good spacing. People are playing the zone to slow you down. We have to play as fast against the zone as we do against the man.


Love’s teams have played in 14 Eastern Conference playoffs with him on the roster.

They are 14-0 in those matchups.

Love has played in 12 of those series, missing two in 2015 while injured. He’s 2-0 in the series so far this season with Miami. All of his other Eastern playoff appearances have come with Cleveland during the LeBron James era.

He watched Celtics-Heat Game 7 last season, still a member of the Cavs, with no real rooting interest. “When you play for a different team, you kind of want them all to lose, one way or another,” Love said.


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.


AP NBA: and

Leave a Comment