East Finals preview: Another round of Celtics vs. Heat

Published May 17, 2023, 5:00 PMLei Macaranas

The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are facing each other in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years.

It took a grueling Game 7 between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia Sixers to finally set this year’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Most people already expected the Boston squad to make it to the East finals after making it to the NBA Finals last year. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat has emerged as the surprise of the postseason, knocking out the top-seeded Bucks in the first round, fending off the promising Knicks in the second round, and eventually reaching the ECF as an eighth seed. 

The Celtics and Heat are playing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years. In 2020, the Heat outplayed the Celtics in six games, made possible by Bam Adebayo’s game-clinching block in Game 1. Last year, Jimmy Butler’s go-ahead 3-pointer in Game 7 in Miami almost had them winning the series but the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals against the eventual champions Golden State Warriors. 

Now, the two teams are meeting again. Although this time, the Celtics are the No. 1 seed and are considered to be the top title contenders. On the other hand, the Heat are the No. 8 seed, the second in NBA history to advance as far as the conference finals. Make no mistake though, these teams are evenly matched despite what their regular season records show. 

Most compelling storyline

The main players are the same for both teams: Butler and Adebayo vs. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The other players like Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford all have tons of experience on the postseason stage. 

Boston, who is one of the teams with the most depth in the whole league, is led by Tatum who recently scored 51 points in a close-out game against the Sixers. How the Heat can defend Tatum and his amazing scoring abilities will definitely be one of the most interesting things to watch out for in this matchup. 

The Heat usually stick to their defensive fundamentals and don’t rely too much on individual threats on offense. However, if you face a guy like Tatum who can explode for 50 on any given night, you should really give it your all to limit his production. We also remember how Jalen Brunson managed to put out 41 points even against a variety of defensive looks in the Heat’s last game at Madison Garden. 

In last year’s East Finals, P.J. Tucker was assigned the role of primary defender on Tatum. With Tucker out, the role is now given to Caleb Martin this season but that was before Martin slid into a more reserved position. 

Coach Erik Spoelstra might switch it up and give more responsibility to Kevin Love. Then again, it actually really depends on how Coach Joe Mazulla will formulate his starting five. Nonetheless, no matter who the Heat decide to put on Tatum, they must be ready and agile to prevent him from making another explosive performance. 


As Miami deals with limiting Tatum, Boston will also have to draw up a plan against Butler — a player known for his heightened confidence in the playoffs. He's averaging 31.1 points on 52.7 percent shooting, with 6.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.7 steals. 

As anyone can tell, this man is definitely on a mission. He already had nights where he tallied 35, 42, and 56 points, and everyone expects him to just keep going. But who’s going to help ‘Himmy’ Butler in scoring? Tyler Herro is reported to miss more weeks due to his fractured right hand. Adebayo can step up after averaging 18.1 points this postseason, and Robinson can also be a light of hope with his improved shot success percentage. 

If the Heat want to continue to beat more odds, they would have to get more points out of the other players not named Jimmy Butler. 

Winning blueprint

The Celtics are arguably the favorites of this series. However, Miami is the most hardworking and determined team in the whole league. The Heat can snatch the finals berth because of their will and pride as a team. No other squad has played like a strong collective unit other than the eighth-seeded Heat, and their entire roster knows how much each game is important to them. 

For the Heat, reaching the finals can be attained if they’re mentality locked in and willing to do all the dirty work on the floor and if they keep their camaraderie intact. 

Boston has been dominating so far and we can owe a lot of that to their talented roster. Aside from their offense, they also need to focus on their defense to claim the series against the hardworking Heat. They’ve already proven that they have the defensive fortitude, evident in the Sixers series. Boston should take care of business faster by putting bodies on Butler to slow him down.