Heat star Jimmy Butler is known for speaking his mind, and he didn’t disappoint the day before eighth-seeded Miami visits the second-seeded Boston Celtics for the opener of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.
Butler insisted this Miami team will not be deterred on its way to the NBA title.
“This year is our year,” Butler said. “We’re going to go into this Game 1 and do what we’re supposed to do and be the first one to four (victories). We are very capable of it.”
Capable, yes, but Miami will be attempting it as a decided underdog.
The Heat are 8.5-point underdogs in Game 1 at BetMGM, although they have drawn 73 percent of the spread-line bets and 66 percent of the handle since the line opened at 7.5. Their moneyline opened at +260 but has moved to +290 with the Heat backed by 79 and 69 percent of the action, respectively.
The Celtics are 8.0-point favorites in Game 1 at BetRivers, where they have drawn only 37 percent of the spread-line bets and 29 percent of the money. Boston is also a heavy -500 favorite to win the series, and the public is overwhelmingly backing that outcome with 80 percent of the bets and 82 percent of the money.
This is the third time in the past four seasons that the Celtics and Heat have met in the East finals. And it will be a different Boston coach on the sideline for the third occasion.
Miami eliminated Brad Stevens’ Boston team in six games in 2020 before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Last season, the Ime Udoka-coached Celtics ousted the Heat in seven games before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the championship round.
Udoka was fired prior to the season due to a workplace affair and was replaced by Joe Mazzulla, a first-time head coach who gets to match wits against Miami’s well-respected Erik Spoelstra.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge for Joe, but I think he’s going to handle it well,” Boston star Jaylen Brown said. “He’s handled it well all season. He’s been scrutinized, but he’s done a good job. He is a rookie coach, but he’s taken a championship-caliber team and now we’re back in the Eastern Conference finals.
“He deserves some credit for that. But he’s going against one of the greatest coaches of all time, and I think there’s a level of respect there and understanding that Spoelstra is going to make adjustments.”
Brown averaged 24.1 points in last season’s matchup with the Heat, just behind star Jayson Tatum’s 25 per game.
Tatum is coming off a performance for the ages. He poured in a Game 7-record 51 points as the Celtics pounded the Philadelphia 76ers 112-88 to reach the Eastern finals.
“It’s a big movie,” Boston guard Marcus Smart said of Tatum’s show. “Being able to just sit back, eat your popcorn and watch. Sometimes we do get in that mode where we forget that we’re on the court playing with him.”
Tatum has quickly put that epic effort behind him and is focused on competing against the Heat.
“A team that we’re extremely familiar with,” Tatum said about the matchup. “A very well-coached team, they compete with the best of them, play hard. They defend, they make plays and they figure out a way to win games. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be highly competitive and I’m looking forward to it.”
The intensity level is always high when Butler is on the floor. He averaged 25.6 points against Boston in last season’s series.
He also produced a milestone effort in this season’s playoffs with 56 points in a first-round victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. The 56 points tied for fourth most in an NBA playoff game.
Butler was plagued by an ankle injury in the conference semifinal series win over the New York Knicks. The ankle is feeling better, and so is Butler’s outlook about Miami’s supporting cast.
“Guys are playing some incredible basketball,” Butler said. “I like our chances, as does everyone in this organization.”
Heat center Bam Adebayo hasn’t forgotten the critics that pounced when the team lost to the Atlanta Hawks in its first play-in game before beating the Chicago Bulls to move into the playoffs.
“It’s a crazy story being written,” Adebayo said. “Through all the ups and downs of this season, a lot of people counting us out and saying we weren’t even going to make it past the first round and now we’re in the Eastern Conference finals. It just shows the determination and the will that this team has.”
Boston and Miami split four regular-season meetings. Each club split the two games on its home floor.
Sportsbooks are expecting a far lower-scoring game than was seen in Game 1 of the Western Conference semis.
The 209.5-point Over/Under at BetMGM has moved slightly to 210.5, with the Over backed by 80 percent of the bets and 81 percent of the handle. The market is at 211 at BetRivers, with the Over drawing 75 and 76 percent of the action, respectively.
–Field Level Media
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