Preview capsule for the Heat-Celtics Eastern Conference finals

Preview capsule for the Boston-Miami Eastern Conference finals series that starts Wednesday:

No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (57-25, 8-5) vs. No. 8 MIAMI HEAT (44-38, 8-3)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Schedule: Wednesday and Friday at Boston, Sunday and Tuesday at Miami, May 25 at Boston if necessary, May 27 at Miami if necessary, May 29 at Boston if necessary.

How they got here: Celtics — beat No. 7 Atlanta 4-2; beat No. 3 Philadelphia 4-3. Heat — beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1; beat No. 5 New York 4-2.

Storyline: The Celtics and Heat meet in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year and the third time in the last four. Boston edged the top-seeded Heat in Game 7 in Miami last season to secure its trip to the NBA Finals. This time, the Celtics have the home-court edge against a Heat team that is just the second No. 8 seed to reach the conference finals in the current format that began in 1984. The only other one, the New York Knicks, went all the way to the NBA Finals in 1999. Miami earned its most recent trip to the NBA Finals by beating Boston in 2020 at Walt Disney World.

Key matchup: Boston’s Jayson Tatum vs. Miami’s Jimmy Butler. The Celtics held on in Game 7 last year after Butler missed what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer. He’s been playing in this postseason as if determined to get another chance. The forward’s scoring numbers dropped in the second round after he had 56 and 42 points in the final two games of Miami’s upset of Milwaukee, but he still leads all Eastern Conference players with 31.1 per game. Tatum, who set a Game 7 record with 51 against Philadelphia on Sunday, is averaging 28.2.

Injury watch: Butler played through a sprained right ankle the final four games against the Knicks after missing Game 2. The Heat may need to win this series to have a chance of getting Tyler Herro back from a broken right hand sustained in the postseason opener.

Numbers of note: The teams have met five times in the playoffs, with the Heat winning three. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had been 5-0 in the conference finals until the Celtics’ victory last year. … The Celtics are trying to become the first team to lose in the NBA Finals and then get back there the next season since Cleveland in 2017 and ’18. … The teams haven’t met since Jan. 24, when the Heat held the Celtics to 13 points in the fourth quarter in Boston’s first loss on the road all season when leading after three.

Prediction: It’s hard to believe these Heat were a game away from not making the playoffs. They are far better than a normal No. 8 seed. But the Celtics are a better team. They clinch an NBA Finals trip on Miami’s home floor for the second straight season. Boston in 6.


AP NBA: and

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