The NBA Eastern Conference finals get back to business on Wednesday after a three-day break that afforded time for the Western Conference finals to get caught up with two games played since the Celtics and Heat last played on Saturday.
Boston avoided a disastrous 0-3 start in this series on Saturday by defeating Miami by a 117-106 score as a 3.5-point favorite. That victory gave them the opportunity to even this series at 2-2 in Game 4.
There were two developments in that game that gives Boston hope that they can rally to win this series. First, head coach Brad Stevens made the defensive adjustment to play Marcus Smart against the primary Miami ball handler. Smart’s previous primary responsibility on defense was guarding the Heat’s 3-point specialist Duncan Robinson. That assignment may not be the best use of Smart’s elite defensive skills. By instead having Smart defend the Miami primary ball-handler, his ball-hawking skills are better able to disrupt the flow of the Heat offense. Miami shot only 38.8% from the field on Saturday while making only 27% of their 3-pointers.
The Celtics also saw the return of Gordon Hayward in Game 3 who made an immediate impact for the team after recovering from an ankle injury. Hayward was able to play more than 30 minutes on Saturday which helped Stevens to shorten his bench that had been getting outplayed by the Miami second unit. With Hayward playing significant minutes, Stevens felt comfortable playing his big three of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker over 40 minutes in Game 3.
Hayward is also a zone buster with his outside shooting threat. After scoring only 19 points on 32 possessions against a Miami zone defense in Game 2, the Celtics scored 18 points in the 20 possessions against a zone defense with Hayward on the court. With the happenstance of three days after Hayward’s first appearance in the postseason, he should be able to play significant minutes again tonight.
Miami has still won ten of their last twelve games in the playoffs. Jimmy Butler has taken a step back in this series by averaging only 17.0 points per game which is behind the 22.0 points per game that Bam Adebayo is averaging along with Goran Dragic with his 21.7 PPG average in this series. After suffering their first loss in the Eastern Conference finals, this could be the game that Butler attempts to put his team on his shoulders.
Boston has won eight of the twelve quarters in this series with +3 net points scored yet are trailing by a 2-1 margin. Despite the Celtics holding double-digit leads in all three games, the Heat have used three dominant quarters in the first two games to give them this opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead. BookMaker
lists the Celtics as a 3-point favorite with the over/under set at 210. ESPN has the broadcast for this game with the tip occurring just after 8:30 PM ET.