The Miami Heat’s first game of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics comes Tuesday. In some ways, it also could feel like the teams’ first matchup of the season.
For all the counter-punching through what turned into the Celtics winning the regular-season series 2-1, neither team then had the look it will have during the impending best-of-seven showdown for a spot in the NBA Finals.
“You almost can’t draw anything from those games because there are so many moving parts that are different than they are now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Saturday’s practice at Disney World.
— In the Celtics’ 112-93 Dec. 4 victory at TD Garden, the Heat started Meyers Leonard and Kendrick Nunn, utilized Justise Winslow as sixth man, and were without sidelined Goran Dragic, in a game the Celtics played in the injury absences of Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward.
— In the Celtics’ 109-101 Jan. 28 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat started Leonard and Tyler Herro, utilized James Johnson and Dion Waiters as rotation players, and had Dragic as sixth man, in a game Jayson Tatum missed for Boston due to injury.
— And then, most recently, when the NBA shifted to its quarantine bubble at Disney, after a four-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the Heat’s 112-106 victory on Aug. 4, the Heat were without sidelined Jimmy Butler.
“That’s something that really stuck out to me, when you start diving into the film,” Spoelstra said. “Somebody has always been missing, multiple people in each of those games.
“At the end of the day, we’re a totally different team, certainly than the first time we played them in December. And they’re a much different team.”
For example, Dragic has moved into the Heat starting lineup, Herro has emerged as sixth man, Nunn now is a reserve and Leonard no longer plays. In addition, Winslow, Waiters and Johnson are gone, replaced by Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala, who have played 53 total minutes for the Heat against the Celtics.
“It’s definitely going to be different than the regular season,” Dragic said. “I didn’t play in Boston; Jimmy didn’t play in the bubble. We didn’t have a complete team when we played against those guys.”
Each of those three games came with the Heat playing on the second night of a back-to-back set.
“Everybody is on an equal playing field here,” Spoelstra said. “You’re getting an appropriate amount of rest. You’re getting right to the competition every other day. That’s the best way.”
And just as he said there is only so much to be culled from the season series, Spoelstra said there are no plans to debrief Kelly Olynyk and Crowder about their run with Boston under current Celtics coach Brad Stevens to the 2017 East finals.
“Their team is different, though,” Spoelstra said. “Am I going to bring them in and ask them what kind of plays they ran for Isaiah Thomas? I don’t know if that’s totally relevant. What kind of misdirection handoffs that were doing for Avery Bradley? I guess we could be maniacal on that and ask for those kinds of details. But they are who they are at this point.”
The Celtics enter as the No. 3 seed, the Heat as No. 5 in the East. But Butler said Saturday the notion of overachieving underdog no longer can be in play after the Heat swept the Indiana Pacers 4-0 in the first round, then ousted the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the second.
“We don’t really use underdog,” Butler said. “We may say that we have a chip on our shoulder. But I don’t think that we’re the underdog. I think we’re a really good team. We play together. Everybody knows their role. We just compete. We’re just competitors. So we’re not embracing being the underdog. I think we’re supposed to be here.”
Series schedule: No. 5 Heat vs. No. 3 Celtics
Game 1: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 2: Thursday, Time TBD., ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, Sept. 19, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: TBD, ESPN
Game 5: TBD, ESPN (if necessary)
Game 6: TBD, ESPN (if necessary)
Game 7: TBD, ESPN (if necessary)
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