• Complete coverage of the Heat-Celtics series
BOSTON – Now that each team has crushed the other in two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, maybe we can get some action between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat close enough to merit a report of the last two minutes.
It would be nice if the game on the field was as close as the series itself (1-1). Such wild swings from the scoreboard — the Heat led by 20 in Game 1, the Celtics by 34 in Game 2 — are great for knee-jerk overreactions, but like most things, the truth and the essence competition between these teams is probably somewhere. between.
Here are some things to watch ahead of Game 3 at Boston’s TD Garden on Saturday (8:30 a.m. ET, ABC).
1. It’s not Butler, it’s Bam
Jimmy Butler fell on his sword after the Miami Game 2 spanking, berating himself for the things he hasn’t done so far on the show while glossing over what he has.
“I think I got a little selfish on the offensive side,” said Butler, who scored 41 and 29 points in the two games respectively, while shooting 23-for-37. “I have to look to use my teammates They’ve been there for me all year, and I have to come back to that because every time they score, every time they’re aggressive, we’re a much better team.
With playmaker Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain) out so far, Butler – who has the ball in his hands so much – wants to do a better job of balancing his scoring and passing duties. But it would be nice if he had an active and aggressive target for such passes.
It would be nice if Miami center Bam Adebayo could step in.
We remember Adebayo from the Heat bubble to the Finals, right? We remember in particular his work against Boston at this same stage, the conference finals, when he was the best player in Miami. Averaging 21.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists while shooting 60.8 percent and choking the Celtics so often at the rim and in the paint, Adebayo was a star at 23. Since then, he has been a candidate for Kia Defensive Player of the Year. , a touch at both ends of the field for all his team who wants to go there.
But he sputters at 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds in these playoffs, compared to 19.1 and 10.1 in the regular season. He’s gone from 13 shots per game to just 8.2 now. In the two games against Boston, Adebayo had 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting in 66 minutes.
One of the differences now is Boston’s frontcourt and the challenges it presents to the Miami big man. Two years ago, in the bubble, Daniel Theis and Jaylen Brown occupied the positions of center and forward guard for the Celtics. Now Adebayo is grappling with Robert Williams III, Al Horford and various assists from a tougher, more scathing Boston defense.
Adebayo may miss Lowry more than some of his teammates, when it comes to when and where the ball ends up in his hands. But it’s up to him to get his shot and generate opportunities on the glass — he’s averaged 1.6 offensive rebounds in the playoffs compared to 3.5 last year and 2.5 in the bubble.
2. Clever as Celtics difference maker
The Celtics have been here before — more specifically, this is their fourth trip to the Eastern Finals in a string of playoff appearances stretching back eight years to 2015.
Marcus Smart was there at the time, ending his rookie season after arriving as the No. 6 overall pick from Oklahoma State. Then and in subsequent seasons, Boston always had other guys in mind for point guard. First Isaiah Thomas, then Kyrie Irving, then Kemba Walker were the rushing leaders and scorers who would lead the Celtics to a championship.
Well, those guys are gone and Smart is still here. His value was never more evident than when passing Game 1, which Smart missed with a sprained right foot, in Game 2. The rugged, scrappy, green-haired guard scored 24 points with nine rebounds, 12 assists (per turnover), three steals, and five of Boston’s 20 3-point shots. He’s been an all-night irritant for the Heat, flexing his Defensive Player of the Year chops while managing details and situations in his team’s favor.
Thursday’s only concern was that Smart was down for more than 40 minutes, possibly looking for a triple-double when he otherwise should have been stopped in the blowout. The last thing the Celtics want is for Smart’s foot to burst or a new disease to appear because there is little recovery time in this round.
3. Closing on the Boston shooters
Regression to the mean indicates the Celtics won’t be shooting as well from the 3-point line as they did in Game 2. They hit 20 of 40, including 9-for-11 in the first quarter to open the game en route to a 70-45 halftime lead.
Some eyes were wide open, others contested. But there’s an attention to detail here that will have to change. Add in the Celtics’ 11-for-34 rate from Game 1 and their 31-for-74 tally is still good for 41.9 percent.
As Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said, “If you start the game [giving up] 9 out of 11 from 3 will get you out of your way pretty quickly.
4. Injury watch for two Heat veterans
Miami isn’t shy about using its injury report to account for every nip, tweak and tickle. Seemingly aware Philadelphia was fined $50,000 for falsifying Joel Embiid’s injury status and Phoenix was fined $25,000 for being less than available on Devin Booker, the Heat are throwing numbers at report and sort it later.
As of Friday night, four Miami players were all listed as questionable: Lowry (hamstring), PJ Tucker (left knee contusion), Max Strus (hamstring) and Gabe Vincent (hamstring). That might sound encouraging for Lowry, as he’s missed eight of the last 10 games and been ineffective in both losses to the Sixers in the semi-conference. But “doubtful” can quickly become “out” in those proverbial game-time decisions.
Tucker is another matter. He rolled his ankle in the first game but surprised some spectators by returning to action. He didn’t return after hitting his knee in Game 2. Miami is counting on him as a first-choice defenseman against Boston’s Jayson Tatum, and he’s a useful corner three option who has reached a record 41.5 career percent this season to open the seams for Butler and others.
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