The Lakers aren’t the only team to reach the Conference Finals from the Play-In Tournament, as the Miami Heat will be in Boston tonight for game one of the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite being written off multiple times during the regular season and losing Tyler Herro in the Play-In, the Heat, behind Jimmy Butler, are four games away from the NBA Finals. We’ll preview tonight’s game before going over my play for the first half.
After game five of the Eastern Conference Semis, most of the media was already building Jaylen Brown mock trades in anticipation of the Celtics' season ending. Those won’t be necessary, however, as Boston came back from a 3-2 deficit and dismantled the Sixers in game seven to reach the conference semi-finals for the third time since 2019-20.
The team that Boston has played in both of those semi-finals just happens to be the Miami Heat, so the familiarity for both teams in this setting is certainly there. Boston got the best of Miami last season to reach the NBA Finals and get some payback from their loss during the bubble season. Entering this series, the Boston Celtics currently have a NET rating in the postseason of (7.1), while the Heat’s rating is (4.7).
Boston and Miami have put up the same defensive efficiency rating of (111) this postseason, but Boston has the better offensive rating at (118.1) as opposed to Miami’s (115.7). The Heat’s offense goes as Jimmy Butler goes, and no team this postseason has been able to slow him down. In the two series he has played against Boston since joining the Heat, Butler has averaged 22.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
This postseason, Butler has been able to get his way into the paint consistently and is averaging 7.6 field goal attempts per game in the restricted area and 4.9 attempts in the paint outside the restricted area. Boston has only allowed 41.8 points per paint per game and held opponents to a field goal percentage of 54.6% on shots within eight feet of the basket, so the interesting matchup in this series is whether or not Butler still gets to his spots and if Boston can keep him off the free throw line.
The Celtics' first-half spread is currently set (-4.5), and I’ll be backing them for my play in this one. Boston has a 1H NET rating at home of (14.9), while Miami’s 1H rating on the road is (-7.3). Miami’s defensive rating of (121.1) is among the worst for playoff teams, as they have allowed a field goal percentage of 50.2% on the road in the first half.
Miami has allowed 27.3 points per paint per game in the first half on the road this postseason, and Boston is getting 49.1% of their points in the paint in the first half, so they should be able to establish themselves in the paint to open up the three ball more. On the flip side, Miami got 44.9% of their points in the first half last series in the paint, while Boston allowed 22 points in the paint per game in the first half last round.
Boston’s leading scorer Jayson Tatum also averages 12.8 points per game in the first half against the Heat in the playoffs while shooting 45.1%. After his game-seven performance, I expect Tatum to come out aggressive tonight. I’m not willing to lay the big number with Boston for the game, but I think they can at least come out strong in the first half.
Boston Celtics 1H (-4.5)