Eastern Conference – No. 1 Celtics vs No. 8 Heat

In the No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat clash in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Keep reading for a preview and prediction for this series. And make sure you check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Guide, which will serve as the hub for all of our postseason betting content! Also, check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Primer, which features tons of in-depth analysis for the entire postseason.

Celtics vs. Heat Series Preview

A rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a year ago sounds fun in theory, but this is obviously a much different set of circumstances for both Boston and Miami. Without Jimmy Butler on the floor, the Heat are going to be up against it when facing one of the most statistically dominant teams in NBA history. 


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The prices for this series are wide ranging, but no matter where you look the Celtics are a massive favorite. DraftKings has the cheapest price on Boston to win the series at -3000 (96.8%). Other shops range from -7200 (98.6%) to -10000 (99.0%). It would be a historic upset if Miami were to pull this off, but the team lovingly referred to as the ‘Zombie Heat’ have done some surprising things before under head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Where the series will be decided is on defense for Miami. The Heat rolled out their amoebic zone defense once again in their play-in  win over the Bulls and held them to 0.885 points per possession in non-garbage time. The 76ers ended up averaging 1.129 points per possession in their win, but turned it over on 17.2% of their possessions. The Celtics will see plenty of this zone defense, but they have the personnel to break it.

One of the downsides of a zone defense is the high rate of 3-point attempts it tends to allow. If a team can shoot over the top of the zone, it can break a team out of their defense. Philadelphia and Chicago combined to take 73 attempts from beyond the arc in non-garbage, but the teams shot 31.5% on those attempts. Shooting will not be a problem for Boston.

The Celtics were the best shooting team in the regular season. They took 43.7% of their attempts from beyond the arc, and shot 39.3% on those attempts. Sam Hauser (42.4%), Jrue Holiday (42.9%) and Al Horford (41.9%) were all better than 40% 3-point shooters. Derrick White, Peyton Pritchard, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis were all better than 37% shooters. If forced to play Miami’s zone, Boston should be capable of breaking it quickly.

Zone defenses are capable of slowing games. There is certainly a chance Boston’s clutch offense is tested at times in this series, but it is a test it should pass with ease. The Celtics averaged 1.205 points per possession in clutch time this season, and posted a +15.7 net rating.

The Celtics are also an extremely capable defensive team. They limited opponents to 112.0 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, the third-best defensive rating this season. Boston has two elite perimeter defenders in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White who will be more than capable of handling Tyler Herro or Terry Rozier, should the latter be available to play in this series. Miami is a poor offensive team which averages 110.8 points per 100 possessions without Butler on the floor. That will likely persist in this series.

Boston is the much better team in this series – a fact represented by the series price – and it is looking for revenge after its loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Celtics should be highly motivated to end this series quickly and with authority. There are many who probably believe the Heat can extend this series due to past success, but this team is not capable of that. Expect the Celtics to roll in the first round.

Lean: Celtics to win series 4-0 (+125)