Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 Preview: 3 Ways to Bet Celtics vs. Heat Series Opener

Action Network's Roberto Arguello breaks down Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Al Horford of the Boston Celtics has entered health and safety protocols, Marcus Smart has a foot injury and both are out for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. For real-time injury updates, check out our FantasyLabs NBA news page.

Celtics vs. Heat Odds

Celtics Odds +105
Heat Odds -125
Over/Under 204
Time 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Boston Celtics face the Miami Heat in a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics swept Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round before erasing a 3-2 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the second round. The Heat beat the Atlanta Hawks in five games in the first round before beating Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

This series features two of the best defenses in the league that are both scheme-versatile while each team has its starting point guard’s status uncertain for Game 1. Additionally, the Heat have a rest advantage having finished their second round series three days before the Celtics, while also playing at home.

With this in mind, let’s break down how to bet Game 1 of what should be a thrilling series.

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Celtics Need Tatum to Have Another Huge Series

The Celtics finished first in Defensive Rating (106.9, excluding garbage time per Cleaning the Glass) this season, and they are a much improved unit from the team that made the conference finals two years ago.

Instead of starting Daniel Theis and diminutive Kemba Walker, they will likely start Al Horford and Robert Williams III (or Grant Williams in Time Lord’s place) alongside their core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics also had Gordon Hayward return from injury in the middle of that 2020 series against the Heat while playing Brad Wanamaker as their backup point guard and Enes Freedom as their backup center. The Celtics now have a much more heady and versatile defensive group in their top-seven with Derrick White joining one of the Williamses as their first subs.

This means it will be much tougher for the Heat to feed off of weak links and find easy pockets in the defense to attack, like Tyler Herro famously did in his 37-point Game 4 Heat win. Both Williamses were on the team two years ago but were very young and didn’t play prominent roles.

Smart (sprained foot) is questionable while Robert Williams III (knee soreness) will be available and won’t have a minutes restriction. Williams was available for Game 7 against the Bucks but did not play. If Smart can’t go, Payton Pritchard will also see a big uptick in playing time.

The key for the Celtics will be to get Tatum comfortable so that he can beat the Heat as a scorer, facilitator or both. The Heat did an excellent job of containing Trae Young and James Harden in the first two rounds, but Tatum at six-foot-eight will be able to make passes that Young couldn’t with his size while providing more of a scoring threat than Harden.

A key for the Celtics offense will be figuring out how to beat the Heat’s zone defense. The Celtics faced the most zone defense of any team in the NBA and scored only 1.01 points per possession against it (third-worst in the league, per Couper Moorhead of

Can the Heat Win Without Kyle Lowry?

While the Celtics are a better team than they were two years ago, especially defensively, so are the Heat. Instead of starting Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson and Jae Crowder (who had a poor shooting series against the Celtics) alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, they start stronger two-way players in Kyle Lowry (or Gabe Vincent when Lowry can’t play), Max Strus and P.J. Tucker.

Instead of having Kelly Olynyk, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill as bench players alongside Herro, the Heat have a much deeper team with the likes of Vincent, Victor Oladipo, Caleb Martin, Dewayne Dedmon and potentially Robinson alongside the Sixth Man of the Year.

Lowry (hamstring) is out for Game 1, and his absence would be significant in this matchup, more so than against the 76ers, as his ability to pass to set up players like Adebayo and Butler against advantageous switches isn’t paralleled by anyone else on the roster. His hit-ahead passes to get the Heat easier looks before the Celtics can set their defense will also be missed, in addition to his high defensive IQ and leadership.

For the Heat to win this series, they need Butler and Adebayo at their best. These two can punish the Celtics when they switch smaller players onto them, but they also have the ability to set up teammates like Strus, Vincent and Tucker for open 3s when the defense collapses.

In his two games against the Celtics — who cut him in the fall of 2019 — Max Strus averaged 21 points this season. Expect the Heat to use Butler and Adebayo in handoffs frequently to initiate their offense with Lowry out.

Celtics-Heat Pick

With the Celtics having played a physical series where they had to work to come back from a 3-2 deficit, the Heat should have the upper hand in Game 1. Teams coming off of Game 7s in the playoffs have gone just 32-49 (39%) against their opponents in Game 1 of the next series.

Furthermore, the Heat will provide a much stiffer defensive challenge than the Celtics have seen so far as the Nets’ defense in the first round was practically nonexistent while the Bucks’ drop-heavy scheme allowed the Celtics open looks from beyond the arc and gave Tatum space to walk into jumpers.

Smart’s uncertain status and Robert Williams’ knee soreness also are causes for concern. The Heat foul a lot defensively, but the Celtics don’t draw a ton of fouls like the 76ers could, so this should help the Heat.

On the other hand, the Heat also haven’t seen a defense like the Celtics’ so far this postseason. The Hawks’ defense was poor and the 76ers initially gave the Heat problems in Games 3 and 4 when Joel Embiid returned, but eventually the Heat figured that out en route to blowout wins in Games 5 and 6. With Lowry out, expect the Heat to go through some growing pains offensively in Game 1 of this series like they did against the 76ers when Embiid returned.

I lean toward the Heat to win this game, but knowing how back-and-forth this matchup should be between two evenly matched teams, I’d rather hunt for better value on the Heat moneyline live at plus-money than pregame at -120. However, both defenses should be strong in Game 1, and I love the value on Under 204 at FanDuel (-110) and would bet this down to 201.

Additionally, I like the value on Max Strus to score Over 12.5 Points (-106) at FanDuel, and you can put that in a Same Game Parlay at FanDuel with Heat Moneyline (-120) at +214.

Strus will have plenty of opportunities to score with Lowry out and Robinson likely out of the rotation, especially if the Celtics continue to prioritize stopping Butler. He will be the primary player paired on handoffs with Butler/Adebayo to start games, and I wouldn’t mind betting some of his alternate overs either.

If and when Lowry returns this series, I’ll look to pounce on betting overs for Butler and Adebayo’s point totals as they will benefit most from Lowry’s facilitating.

Pick: Under 204 | Max Strus Over 12.5 Points | Heat Moneyline Live