Heat look to set tone in opener of series vs. Celtics

By Thomson Reuters Apr 20, 2024 | 4:57 PM

The eighth-seeded Miami Heat will be in a familiar position when they go on the road to open their Eastern Conference first-round series against the top-seeded Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon.

Miami also was the No. 8 seed last season, when it battled its way to NBA Finals. The Heat’s path included a seven-game series victory over Boston in the conference finals before they lost to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.

Miami will be facing a Boston team that led the NBA with 64 victories during the regular season.

“Ultimately, we’ve just got to bring that Miami Heat culture and that toughness,” Miami rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “We’ve got two games in Boston. We’ve got to set the tone extremely early, impose our will on them and make it real physical.”

Miami rebounded from a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday with a 112-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls in a play-in tournament elimination game Friday night. Tyler Herro collected 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the win. Jaquez added 21 points, Kevin Love scored 16 and Bam Adebayo finished with 13.

The Heat will not have Jimmy Butler, who is expected to miss several weeks with an MCL injury he sustained Wednesday night. Butler averaged 20.8 points per game during the regular season.

Miami also will be without Terry Rozier for the series opener. Rozier has been idle since April 7 due to a neck injury.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m grateful for this locker room to have this opportunity. And I think they’re appreciative of it, as well.”

The Celtics went 3-0 against the Heat during the regular season. Boston won 119-111 at home on Oct. 27, prevailed 143-110 at Miami on Jan. 25 and earned a 110-106 victory in Miami on Feb. 11.

“At the end of the day, you can’t have an expectation that (a series) is going to go a certain way,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “It takes what it takes. The other team is trying to win a championship too, so you have to have respect for your opponent. You have to have a mental toughness to withstand things. There are a lot of things that go on within a series.”

Miami won the first three games of its playoff series against Boston last season. After the Celtics won the next three games to even the series, the Heat won Game 7 on the road. Boston is 37-4 at home this season.

“This year feels different, the way we’ve been playing at home,” Boston’s Al Horford said. “We have an understanding that we have to come out and play and perform. I feel like last year at times we kind of leaned on, ‘We’re at home. Our fans are gonna put us over the top.’ Probably the mindset wasn’t the best that it needed to be.

“I feel like now we understand that we have to come out ready to go, and just because we’re here at (TD Garden) we’re just not going to win automatically. We’ve done a better job of that this season.”

This is the seventh time the Heat and Celtics have met in the playoffs. Miami won four of the six previous matchups.

“It’s gonna be a dogfight,” Adebayo said. “It’s gonna be a battle. It’s gonna be in the mud. It’s not gonna be pretty basketball.”

–Field Level Media