The playoffs are heating up and the daily preview takes it to the rim with NBA tips for the Game 7 decider of the Eastern Conference Finals between Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
10:30 (AEST),Mon 30th May @ FTX Arena, Miami
History: Played 158: Celtics 91 V Heat 67
Last meeting: May 28, 2022: Heat 111 d Celtics 103 at TD Garden
Final Thoughts: A Jimmy Butler masterclass has ensured the Heat-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals will get a Game 7 finish in Miami.
The Celtics surged to a 3-2 lead after back-to-back defence-dominated wins over the injury-hit Heat, whose offence had fallen off a cliff. But they couldn’t close it out in Game 6 at home, going down 111-103 thanks predominantly to an amazing performance from ‘Jimmy Buckets’ (47 pts, 9 reb, 8 ast).
Kyle Lowry (18 pts, 10 ast) played an impressive support role for Butler. Jayson Tatum (30 pts, 9 reb) continued his excellent series for the Celtics, while Derrick White put up 22 points off the bench.
The Heat will be drawing on their experience of winning the 2020 East Finals. But this is the franchise’s first Game 7 since winning the 2013 NBA Finals. The Celtics haven’t been to the NBA Finals since 2010, but they have won four Game 7 deciders in the past six seasons – including this year’s Semi-finals against the Bucks.
Heat hot early
The Celtics led by eight at halftime in Game 1 – before Butler balled out to lead the Heat to a 118-107 victory. Butler scored 27 points in second half to finish with a history-making statline of 41 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. A disastrous 39-14 third quarter – with the Celtics shooting 2 for 15 – sealed the visitors’ fate. Jayson Tatum (29 pts, 8 reb, 6 ast, 4 stl) and Jaylen Brown (24 pts, 10 reb) put up good numbers but couldn’t go with Butler in the second half.
But with Al Horford and Marcus Smart back on deck, the Celtics romped to a 127-102 road win in Game 2. Tatum and Brown combined for 51 points, but Smart (24 pts, 9 reb, 12 ast, 3 stl) stole the show. Grant Williams also dropped 19 points off the bench. The Celtics hit 20 of 40 three-point attempts, while the Heat could manage only 10 of 34 with Butler (29 pts) the only Miami player to score more than 14 points.
Butler lasted just 19 minutes of Game 3 in Boston, but the Heat pulled off a 109-103 victory on the back of a stunning all-round display by Bam Adebayo (31 pts, 10 reb, 6 ast, 4 stl). The Celtics led virtually every statistical category and Brown put up 40 points, but the hosts couldn’t reel in the 21-point deficit they’d conceded by the end of the first quarter.
Celtics turn tide
Incredibly, an injury-hampered Heat starting line-up managed just 18 points between them in a 102-82 Game 4 loss. Victor Oladipo (23 pts) top-scored off the bench. Tatum (31 pts, 8 reb, 5 ast) overcame a neck complaint to torch the Heat as the Celtics squared the series again.
Boston took the 3-2 ascendancy with a 93-80 win in Game 5, dominating the second half after trailing by one at halftime. Brown (25 pts) and Tatum (22 pts, 12 reb, 9 ast) led the offence, but it’s the Celtics’ suffocating defence had seemingly put them on course for a series triumph. Miami went an eye-watering 7-for-45 from three-point range and finished the night with a 31.9 percent shooting percentage overall.
Who takes on the Warriors?
But it’s all square again and heading to an all-or-nothing Game 7 in Florida.
The Celtics are $1.70 favourites, despite being on the road. Five of the last seven NBA post-season Game 7s were won by the away team – as well as the last two Conference Finals Game 7s. The Celtics are also 2-1 in Miami in this series.
The Heat are far from healthy. Tyler Herro is questionable to return from a three-game absence, Max Strus is questionable, and Lowry, PJ Tucker and Gabe Vincent are day-to-day. If the hosts are to get up, they need another monster game from Butler, while Adebayo – who has averaged just 11 points in the past three games – and ex-Raptors Championship key piece Lowry can have a big say at their best.
The Celtics’ recent history of playoffs fadeouts may weigh on this side here and I’ll take the points in what should be a gripping high-stakes encounter.