The Celtics will take on a familiar foe in the Eastern Conference finals.
Here are four things to know about the eighth-seeded Heat:
Jimmy Butler is still the team’s cornerstone
At 33, Jimmy Butler is the first player in Miami franchise history to average at least 30 points through his first 10 games of a postseason. That is a testament to his individual production and importance to the team. Butler leads all remaining players in the playoffs with an average of 31.1 points per game, a nearly 10-point increase from his regular-season average of 22.9.
Butler primarily operates inside the arc, with 50 percent of his points coming from the paint, 26 percent at the free throw line, 12 percent from 3-point range, and 12 percent from mid-range. He does not shoot many threes, nor does he make them at a high clip.
Defending without fouling will be a point of emphasis for the Celtics, as Butler is averaging 6.8 fouls drawn per game this postseason. Only Phoenix’s Kevin Durant, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Denver’s Nikola Jokic have drawn more. The Celtics also will want to make sure they set the tone early, as Butler has scored at least 10 points in the first quarter of six games this postseason.
Butler missed Game 2 of Miami’s second-round series with an ankle injury but returned for the remainder of the series without restrictions.
Bam Adebayo is Miami’s other mainstay. Adebayo, named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team, will be a tough matchup for the Celtics on both ends if he can stay aggressive offensively.
The Heat will be without Tyler Herro
Tyler Herro underwent surgery April 21 for a broken hand suffered in Game 1 of Miami’s first-round series against Milwaukee. The Heat said at the time Herro is expected to miss a minimum of six weeks, which would put June 2 as his earliest possible return date.
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals is May 29, so, barring an expedited recovery timeline, the Heat will continue without him.
“Being in the playoffs, you work so hard all year to be in this moment,” Herro said. “I feel like I had some things to prove this postseason. It was a tough moment. I still can’t believe it.”
The 23-year-old Herro earned a starting role this season for the first time in his four-year NBA career. He ranked third on the team in scoring, with an average of 20.1 points per game, behind Butler and Adebayo. His 3-point shooting (37.8 percent on a team-high eight attempts per game) is particularly challenging for the Heat to replace.
In Herro’s absence, Miami has started 34-year-old Kevin Love alongside Butler, Adebayo, Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent. New England product Duncan Robinson also has earned more playing time off the bench.
The Heat also will be without shooting guard Victor Oladipo, who suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee in Game 3 of the first round. In last year’s conference finals, Oladipo proved to be an effective defender against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Four undrafted players are in Miami’s rotation
Miami’s rotation features four undrafted players in Vincent (2018), Robinson (2018), Strus (2019), and Caleb Martin (2019). There are three more on the roster in Udonis Haslem (2002), Haywood Highsmith (2018), and Omer Yurtseven (2020), with Highsmith the only one to earn minutes this postseason.
Seven undrafted players are the most on any playoff team.
Vincent and Strus have carved out significant roles, with Vincent leaning defense and Strus leaning offense. Martin could earn more minutes — and potentially a starting role over Love — against the Celtics for his defensive versatility and 3-point shooting.
The second-highest draft pick on Miami’s roster is 30-year-old Cody Zeller, whom Charlotte selected fourth overall in 2013. Oladipo (second overall in 2013), Herro (13th in 2019), and Adebayo (14th in 2017) are the team’s other lottery picks.
These teams know each other well
The past four years, including the regular season and playoffs, the Celtics are 13-13 against the Heat. During that time, both teams have kept their cores intact, while changing the role players around them.
Looking at the lineups from last year’s seven-game series, the Celtics have significantly upgraded their bench with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon. Miami, meanwhile, lost starter P.J. Tucker in free agency, creating a void on defense. Injuries to Herro and Oladipo have shortened Miami’s rotation, which often went nine deep last postseason.
The Celtics certainly have the better personnel on the court, but coach Erik Spoelstra, in his 15th season as head coach, will be an advantage for Miami.