BOSTON — As the Miami Heat get set to face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four seasons, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows that one of the biggest keys to the series will be the same as it ever was: Slowing down Celtics All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“It’s easier said than done,” Spoelstra said after Wednesday’s shootaround in advance of Game 1. “You have to do your work early. Weakside defenders have to be in their spots early … they’re a very good driving team because of those two guys [Tatum and Brown] collapse your defense and then have spacing, and they’re very disciplined with their spacing, with a bunch of 40% 3-point shooters. You got to scramble and make multiple efforts — there’s no easy way, but there is a way. You have to commit to those kinds of efforts.”
While defense will continue to be the prevailing key for both of these teams over the course of this series, Spoelstra wants his group to appreciate the fact that they have reached this level yet again — against the same team. The Heat beat the Celtics in the 2020 Eastern Conference finals in six games while the Celtics beat the Heat in the 2022 Eastern Conference finals in seven games.
“I think you want to embrace all those things,” Spoelstra said. “You get to this point, you really treasure these opportunities, to face a team three times in four years, you don’t get that very often. We have great respect for them, we’ve had some really good battles with them. It all ends up being in the past, so it’s really good for the fans and it’s good for the fan bases. I think there’s good narratives for all of you, but we have a big task we want to get accomplished this postseason and Boston’s in our way.”
The No. 8 seeded Heat come into this series particularly confident given that they’ve stunned the basketball world by knocking off the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the No. 5 seeded New York Knicks to get to this point again. The mood at Wednesday’s shootaround was laidback and focused as players prepared for a team they know very well. The Heat also feel good because of the fact that star Jimmy Butler continues to play some of the very best basketball of his career and has carried them at various points throughout the postseason.
“He’s our best player,” Spoelstra said. “We follow him. He’s going to set the tone — on both ends of the court. I’ve never put a number on [what he needs to do], but he’s got to be involved.”
Heat All-Star center Bam Adebayo was asked if he felt the Heat should take this matchup against the Celtics personally given the history the two teams have had in recent years.
“We all should,” Adebayo said. “They stopped our chances of going to The Finals [last year].”
This story originally appeared on ESPN