Celtics vs. Heat Game 2 Preview: Can Miami Continue Its Home Dominance?

Matt Moore previews Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Heat offers up some best bets.

Celtics vs. Heat Odds

Celtics Odds +3.5
Heat Odds -3.5
Over/Under 207.5
Time 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds via <!–Caesars–>Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Boston Celtics stormed out of the gates in Game 1 with an impressive first half against the Miami Heat. Then … the third quarter happened. A 39-14 quarter was all Miami needed to win the game as it lost the other three quarters, but took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

So now the Celtics will try and regroup for Game 2 in Miami where the Heat have yet to lose in the postseason.

Is the market underreacting to the Game 1 win? Overreacting? Accurately reacting? Let’s break it down and bet Celtics-Heat Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.


The Celtics’ Missing Players Are Key

Marcus Smart missed Game 1 with a foot sprain. There hasn’t been a lot of reporting on Smart’s status for this series. A foot sprain has a pretty wide range of return dates. If it’s mild, which is the assumption, he could very well play Game 2 on Thursday.

The problem is that this might be a game-time decision and because he’s a huge swing player, you need to factor in the variability of his availability into your betting.

Smart is listed  probable for Game 2 and his return would matter a great deal to a Celtics defense that fell apart in the second half of Game 1.

Al Horford, meanwhile, missed Game 1 due to a bout with Health and Safety protocols. His status, equally, is up in the air.

The testing requirements aren’t as stringent as they used to be at the height of the pandemic. This hasn’t been confirmed, but there’s a thought in league circles that Horford is vaccinated to some degree.

This was of real question before the playoffs when the Celtics could have played Toronto — despite a comment early in the season that Horford was vaccinated. That’s important because unvaccinated players have longer return times and more intensive clearance protocols.

The best way to analyze Game 1 for the Celtics is pretty simple: They are neither as good on average as they were in the first half, nor as bad as they were in the second half. Boston was slightly worse in the second half than they were better than average in the first half, but both were pretty extreme.

It wasn’t just shooting, but the Celtics shot 8% better than expected based on shooter, shot location and contest level in the first half and 14% worse than expected in the second half. They generated 15 fast break points in the first half, but had just four in the second.

The Heat seemed caught off guard by a much sharper and amped up Celtics team that was no doubt pushed by the urgency of being down two starters. Once things settled in, however, the Celtics had issues with Miami’s defense.

One reason the Celtics were able to create so many looks vs. the Bucks is Milwaukee’s scheme is built to take away the paint. The Heat switch a lot more and as the game went on, Miami started staying home on the weak side.

Notice how defenders aren’t overloaded to the strong side on this play here, which allows them to recover when the Celtics try and reverse to the other side of the court.

The balance between Miami protecting the rim and covering those weak-side reversals will be key.

The corner is open here when Tatum turns it over trying to get the ball to Robert Williams. If that pass is higher on the floor and to Horford, that’s an easy trigger action for a corner 3. Tatum could just throw it, but again, the Heat are playing to the perimeter well.

There was a lot of crowing in the first half about how the Heat were no longer playing the Sixers. But after Miami settled down, the Celtics found they were no longer playing an offensively limited (without Khris Middleton) Bucks team, either.

Can the Heat Offense Remain Explosive in Game 2?

PJ Tucker suffered an ankle injury in Game 1, but is not listed on the injury report. Kyle Lowry will miss Game 2 with his hamstring injury. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are questionable with strains, but expected to play.

Miami’s offense was the big question mark in the playoffs, but the Heat have the best Offensive Rating of any team remaining and the third-best Offensive Rating of any team in the postseason overall.

If Smart plays, the clearest impact is on the defensive end. Not only can Smart take some reps on Jimmy Butler, guarding Bam Adebayo for switch purposes, but he can help slow down Gabe Vincent, who has been excellent in the playoffs and was especially so in Game 1.

The Heat’s half-court offense is 13 points better with Vincent on-court vs. off.

Boston tried drop coverage in the first half against the Heat and Tyler Herro basically played it off the floor. The Celtics only tried that coverage three times in the second half.

Smart being part of the scheme makes fewer easy targets to pick on. His shooting may be inconsistent, but having another weapon who can create with the ball would have helped.

Miami didn’t shoot the lights out in the second half. It averaged just a slightly-better then expected eFG%. Miami’s defense should stabilize, but it’s likely Boston’s defense also improves with Smart back.

A normal, good Jimmy Butler game — instead of “invincible monster” Butler — drags down the Heat’s efficiency as well.

Miami had a great offensive performance in Game 1. They’ll need to win a tighter one in Game 2.

Celtics vs. Heat Pick

I like Miami. I think Horford’s absence will remain an issue. For as well as the Heat played in third quarter, they honestly didn’t play a great game overall when you consider they lost three of the four quarters.

Boston has shown resiliency and toughness on the road, but Miami’s been great at home and I think it likely takes another game for the Celtics to stabilize after a grueling seven-game series vs. the Bucks.

I like the under. I took the under in Game 1 and outside of Boston’s wild shooting in the first half we likely would have gotten there. These two defenses are too good not to slow one another down.

I played Jayson Tatum over assists and rebounds in Game 1 and I’ll be on that again. The Heat want to double him and apply pressure and Tatum is a willing passer. Smart is not ball-dominant, so he won’t drag down Tatum’s usage.

I’ll also take Tyler Herro under on points based on the changed scheme Boston showed in Game 1.

Pick: Heat -3.5