MIAMI — The Celtics never seem to get quite their bearings as they enter the realm of Erik Spoelstra.
The Miami coach usually keeps them flummoxed with annoying random zone coverage. He attacks with waves of marksmen and, in Bam Adebayo, one of the best playmaking centers in the game. Most of the same characters are back from 2020, when the Heat eliminated the Celtics in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals at the Orlando Bubble.
And now they find themselves back on that stage, with Game 1 set to kick off on Tuesday night.
“We brought it up,” Ime Udoka said Monday of the 2020 conference finals. “The coaches that were here obviously went back and took a look at it, we talked about it amongst ourselves and then the players brought it up as well.”
The most recent lessons also apply now.
“I think talking about being caught off guard in Game 1 against Milwaukee will bode well for us going into this one, understanding that there are a lot of differences with the teams we’re facing and what it’s about, but being prepared is the thing. main”, said the coach of the Celtics. “We look at the lack of rest and preparation or whatever, but we also look at the consistency and some momentum on our side. The hard-fought series has just ended, but we have to turn the page and focus on Miami now. The guys have mentioned that. I think there’s a lot of familiarity between the groups and I think that should bode well for us.”
And now for a quick turnaround against a relatively rested Heat team, and a look at the opening matchups.
Al Horford (6-foot-10, 240 pounds, 15th season) vs. Bam Adebayo (6-foot-9, 255 pounds, Season 5): In what will go down in Celtics lore as the “Al Game”: career playoff-high 30 points, five 3-pointers and a dunk colossal while elbowing Giannis Antetokounmpo in the chin/throat area in Game 4: Horford led his team to a 2-2 tie in the series. His leadership and his defensive work on Antetokounmpo were invaluable. And now comes another unique challenge. Adebayo is a lot like the young Horford, except he has a more offensive side and a terrifying presence on the glass. He averaged 14.1 points, eight rebounds and 5.7 assists in three games against the Celtics this season. But he always plays well against the Celtics.
Grant Williams (6-foot-6, 236, Season 3) vs. PJ Tucker (6-foot-5, 245, 11th season): In what will go down in Celtics history as the “Grants Game,” Williams buried the Bucks with a 27-point performance in Game 7 on Sunday he prospered with 7 of 18 3-point shooting. The Bucks challenged him to shoot scores, and he jumped at the chance. And he is now facing the player he was often compared to in college. Tucker is a tough, 3D prototype, and based on the praise Williams drew for his work on Antetokounmpo, he comes off as a younger version of Tucker, maybe better. Both players love the physicality (Williams will also get a chance to clash with Adebayo) and will be responsible for a fair amount of fouling and turmoil.
Jayson Tatum (6-foot-8, 210 pounds, season five) vs. Jimmy Butler (6-foot-7, 230 pounds, 11 seasons): If he wasn’t there before, Tatum put himself in the top tier of the NBA with his performance in the last three games of the Bucks series, scoring in a clip of 33.2 in that period. Now, however, he faces a Heat team that has routinely confused the Celtics with their random waves of zone coverage in recent years, including the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. And as good as Jrue Holiday, Wes Matthews and Kevin Durant were against him in the previous two rounds, Butler will make him work even harder, with help, for good scoring opportunities. Butler is a great playoff player. An improved shooter, if not great, but Miami’s forward is as important as he is in the postseason. Another great showdown is on the cards between these two.
Jaylen Brown (6-foot-6, 223, season six) vs. Max Strus (6-foot-5, 215 inches, season three): Strus, the former Celtics camper, is good enough to beat out Duncan Robinson as a starter. worked. And Brown has to be careful not to fall asleep when Strus, one of the best shooters in the league, starts looking for those free spaces off the ball. Brown, on the other hand, could really have a big time in this series. Miami zone coverage aside, there really isn’t anyone in the Heat lineup who can handle Brown in isolation, because Butler will likely be busy chasing and pummeling Tatum down the floor.
Marcus Smart (6-foot-3, 220, season eight) vs. Kyle Lowry (6-foot-0, 196, Season 16): Befitting the way Smart and Lowry sacrifice themselves physically, they’re both banged up: Smart with a deep quad contusion and Lowry with a strained hamstring. They have lost one and six respective games this postseason. Smart said he doesn’t plan on missing another game, and Lowry, clearly more physically challenged, was already scratched from the Game 1 roster. He has averaged 6.2 points and 5.2 assists in five games. Meanwhile, Gabe Vincent has taken over as point guard. Smart should have plenty of room to create his usual chaos, though he is listed as questionable for Game 1.
Celtics (Rob Williams, Derrick White, Daniel Theis, Payton Pritchard) vs. Heat (Tyler Herro, Victor Oladipo, Duncan Robinson, Dewayne Dedmon): Miami has as much power off the bench as it does in the starting lineup, and in Herro, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Oladipo has averaged 12 points in eight playoff games, and on most teams, Robinson would still be a standout shooter. That’s all the offensive load the Celtics’ reserves have to handle. They have often fallen short in the past, but the Celtics are a different defensive unit now. Of note is the status of Rob Williams, whose knee pain issues have left him with an “if needed” designation. He’s obviously a game changer defensively, and with Adebayo buzzing, he’ll rack up minutes if he can compete.
Ime Udoka vs. Erik Spoelstra: Udoka has done wonders with his defensive game plans, finding ways to make two future Hall of Famers, Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo, painfully inefficient. The Heat have more balance than Brooklyn or Milwaukee. Spoelstra has been very good over the years at throwing the Celtics off balance with his own defensive tactics. These two share roots in Portland, Oregon and know each other well. Let the chess game begin.