The Celtics are headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
They’ll face the top-seeded Miami Heat, who have been resting since Thursday after eliminating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Game 1 will be Tuesday night at FTX Arena in Miami.
On the injury front, Heat starting point guard Kyle Lowry has been in and out of the lineup this postseason because of a hamstring issue. Lowry, who averaged 33.9 minutes during the regular season, missed two games in the first round and four in the conference semifinals. His status is unclear.
Here are four other things to know about the Heat:
1. Jimmy Butler, their heart and soul, is having a fantastic postseason.
Butler, 32, has been the focal point of Miami’s offense, averaging a team-high 28.7 points per game. Only LeBron James (30.3 in 2012) has averaged more during a single postseason in franchise history.
What’s most impressive is his efficiency. Through 10 games, Butler is shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from inside the restricted area. He is averaging seven shots per game in that zone, making him the only non-center to operate that efficiently at that frequency at the rim.
Because Butler primarily attacks in the paint or from midrange, he’s not as much of a threat from behind the arc. Still, he’s not afraid to shoot from range. Butler is averaging 4.4 3-point attempts per game, up from his regular-season average of 2.0. His 3-point percentage also has improved, from 23.3 to 36.4.
Adding to Butler’s value is his ability to contribute defensively.
“Jimmy is a great competitor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think he’s one of the ultimate competitors in this profession. I think a lot of things get lost in translation. As this league sometimes gets younger, I think it ends up being about some things that are not about winning. He competes on both ends.”
2. Duncan Robinson’s playing time has decreased significantly.
Local favorite Robinson signed a five-year, $90 million deal in August, but he hasn’t seen the court much lately.
Robinson, who grew up in New Hampshire and attended Governor’s Academy in Byfield, started 68 regular-season games before taking more of a back seat during the postseason. Against the 76ers, Robinson did not play in three games and came off the bench for minimal action in Games 2, 5, and 6. He made one of his four 3-point attempts.
So, why isn’t Robinson playing? While he certainly can shoot the ball from deep, he’s a liability defensively. Spoelstra indicated the rotation is subject to change — and his hand might be forced if Miami’s poor 3-point shooting continues (29.8 percent against Philly). For now, though, the Heat are taking a defensive-minded approach to their lineups.
Robinson called dealing with Spoelstra’s decision “part of being a professional.”
“If I’m on the court, it’s my job to play basketball to the best of my abilities and help us win,” he said earlier this month. “If I’m not on the court, help us win. If that’s being a supportive teammate, that’s what I do.”
3. They have the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
Tyler Herro is Miami’s top reserve, averaging 13.8 points in 27.6 minutes per game this postseason.
Like Robinson, Herro often gets picked on defensively, but his ability to score at all three levels makes him a valuable offensive asset. He can finish at the rim, rise up for a midrange jumper, or pull up from behind the arc.
His regular-season contributions — 20.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game on 44.7 percent shooting — earned him Sixth Man of the Year honors.
“It does take sacrifice; it does take a willingness to be a part of something bigger,” Spoelstra said of the award. “Tyler is about the right things. He has such an incredible work ethic. He’s ambitious.
“He is one of the young stars in this league. He’s been able to quiet all the noise and sacrifice and do what was best for the group. It really translated to success and winning.”
Rounding out the Heat’s rotation are Dewayne Dedmon, Victor Oladipo, and Gabe Vincent, who has been battling knee irritation. Caleb Martin has logged a few stints off the bench.
4. Max Strus has earned a starting role.
Celtics fans might remember Strus, an undrafted 6-foot-5-inch guard out of DePaul who spent training camp in Boston in 2019. He ended up losing out to Javonte Green in a battle for the final spot on the 15-man roster, and later signed a two-way deal with the Chicago Bulls.
Three years later, Strus has started every game this postseason. His individual defensive rating of 94.1 is the best among Heat players in the rotation during the playoffs. Offensively, the majority of his shots come from 3-point range.
While he’s not knocking down threes at the clip he’d like — 34.7 percent on 8.2 attempts per game this postseason — Strus maintains his confidence because of his defensive contributions.
“I take defense personally because people don’t think I can guard anybody,” Strus said. “I think I’ve been showing that that’s not true.”
The Milwaukee Bucks still boast the league’s best defensive rating (102.7) in the playoffs. The Heat, however, are right behind them (104.6), with the Celtics in third (105.2). Expect the gritty defensive play to continue.