*Image credit: Matthew Lee Lotshaw
Who: Boston Celtics (25-15) at Miami Heat (19-20)
What: Striking First
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida
When: Thursday, January 10, 2019, 7:00 PM EST
Why: Because the Heat have had it too easy, I guess
Injuries: O-Goran Dragic (knee surgery)
The Celtics are a weird story this year. After an impossibly slow start, especially for all the talent they have on the roster, they’ve gotten back on track and found their way back to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. How can the Heat, fresh off a competitive game against Denver, win tonight?
The Celtics played the Pacers last night, and blew them out. With a final score of 135-108, the Celtics didn’t even seem to break a sweat. But, it might leave them tired for the second night of a back-to-back, especially having to travel to Miami.
The Heat lost a close one to the Nuggets on Tuesday, which, of course, I wrote about. The recap is here, and I won’t spoil anything in this paragraph because I want you to go read it.
These two teams haven’t played each other this year, but they play each other again next week. The Heat won the season series last year, 2-1. Obviously, both rosters haven’t seen much turnover, so this year’s season series should be fun.
The beauty of the Celtics comes from not only their level of talent, but their coaching. Brad Stevens, even after a rocky start this year, is considered one of the best coaches in the NBA. They’re top ten in many statistical categories, and have a superstar talent in Kyrie Irving.
I’d like to shine a light specifically on Gordon Hayward. He suffered a gruesome injury in game one of last year’s NBA season, and rehabbed his way back into the starting lineup to start this season. But, he looked slow, had trouble scoring, and was a liability on defense. He’s spent the last couple of months coming off the bench, which has been unheard of since his time with the Jazz, where he made the Western Conference All-Star team in 2017.
But, after a breakout game against Minnesota last week, Hayward has been averaging 19.3/5.3/4.8 on splits of 58/50/81.8 in just 27 minutes. That’s extremely impressive, especially after underwhelming fans all year. So, the match-up of the day is whoever comes off the bench to guard Gordon Hayward (likely Dion Waiters or Dwyane Wade), and Gordon Hayward.
The Celtics are a tough team to stop on the defensive end, but one way to guarantee some stagnation is to force the ball into the hands of Marcus Smart. Marcus Smart makes shots, but not as many as the Celtics would like. If the Heat let Kyrie Irving, one of the best ball handlers in the NBA, get into his bag of tricks, then there’s no stopping the Celtics. Stop Kyrie, make Smart shoot.
Offensively, do the opposite. Go at Kyrie Irving, especially with Justise Winslow rounding out an over-sized back court, and stay away from Smart. Smart is a defensive powerhouse, one of the reasons he’s starting over Hayward, and will bother the crap out of anyone trying to score on him.
With veteran Al Horford at the center position, the Celtics are lacking a lot of athleticism in the middle. Horford is smart, but he’s not necessarily intimidating or athletic. Take it at him, but avoid the middle when Robert Williams is in the game. He’s the opposite of Horford-tall and athletic, but low basketball IQ.
The Celtics don’t allow a lot of perimeter shooting with how they scheme their defense, but that doesn’t mean the Heat need to settle for mid-range shots. Move the ball, and find the open man. The Celtics force a lot of turnovers, seventh most in the NBA, so the Heat need to be careful when they move the ball around.
Final Score Prediction- 108-103 Heat
The Celtics head to Orlando to play the Magic on Saturday, and play the Heat again on 1/21. The Heat stay home and play the defensive-minded Grizzlies on Saturday.