Celtics-Heat IV: A Breakdown, Background, and Prediction

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and the Celtics can serve it right away in the 2024 NBA playoffs.
Feb 11, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) and Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson (55) argue after a foul call
Feb 11, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) and Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson (55) argue after a foul call / Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Good things come in threes, right?

The Lord of the Rings. Clovers. Wishes from a genie. Chicago Bulls championship runs in the 1990s. The list goes on and on.

But what about things that come in fours?

For the fourth time in five years, the Boston Celtics will face off against the Miami Heat in the playoffs. After three straight hard-fought, exhilarating series, expectations are sky-high for Celtics-Heat Part IV.

Miami vs. Boston isn’t an ancient rivalry, but what it lacks in time, it makes up in intensity. The teams didn’t meet in the playoffs until 2010, but they’ve met six times since then; the Heat prevailed in four of those matchups.

This rivalry has bubbled up often in recent years. After the Heat took a contentious six-game Eastern Conference Finals in the 2020 bubble, the Celtics exacted revenge in 2022, icing a seven-game series win on Miami’s home floor to book a trip to the NBA Finals.

A year later, the Heat secured a berth in the NBA Finals on Boston’s home floor after a 3-0 comeback fell just short in a heartbreaking Game Seven.

The situation is admittedly different this time around. For starters, they’ll meet in the first round; secondly, the Heat will likely be without star forward Jimmy Butler for at least a good chunk of this series. Additionally, this is the best Celtics team in some time; the Heat were lucky to make the playoffs.

But, this is the playoffs. Anything can happen, and Miami showed the world how little the regular season matters just a season ago. Expecting any playoff series to be a total snooze is a fool’s errand, and this one is no different.

Boston Celtics: 64-18, #1 seed

You don’t exactly have to be a hardcore NBA fan to know what Boston’s done this season. The Celtics possess the best starting five in the league, and five of their six top players have made at least one All-Star team. The only outlier is Derrick White, who still classifies as a top-50 NBA player.

They may not have the best player in every series, but they’ll always have at least six of the top nine, and Jayson Tatum gives Boston a bonafide superstar who can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on any given night.

The Celtics led the NBA in offensive rating, thanks in no small part to their dominance from beyond the arc. Boston paced the league in threes attempted and threes made while placing second in three-point percentage.

All their top-eight rotation players shoot at least 35% from three, except Jaylen Brown, who shoots north of 37.5%. Sure, this reliance on threes can lead to trouble, but the Celtics are so talented and consistent that it might not even matter. They’re efficient enough on post-ups, in transition, and in isolation situations to the point where a poor shooting night is still survivable.

On the other side of the ball, they boast a litany of the league’s best defenders. Brown, Tatum, White, and Jrue Holiday all have legitimate All-Defensive team arguments; Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis aren’t exactly slouches, either. The midseason acquisition of Xavier Tillman added yet another versatile, gritty defender to the mix, and Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser have proven useful in certain matchups as well. 

Overall, the Celtics are a talented, well-rounded team. The only weakness you could point out is continuity; the playoff starting five hasn't seen the court together an awful lot, and various players have missed games here and there with injuries. Outside of that, though, they profile as a dominant championship contender who doesn't do much wrong.

Miami Heat: 46-36, #8 seed

What’s the opposite of fool’s gold?

The Heat don’t shine under the light. You can dig into their stats, shot charts, roster, anything; you’ll find that the 2023-24 Miami Heat simply weren't very impressive.

But, then again, neither was the 2022-23 Heat, and they ended up three wins away from a Larry O’Brien trophy.

One thing you can say about Miami is that they play as a team. Every player who logs minutes will be counted on to contribute in one way or another, and no one player dwarfs the rest of the team. From Bam Adebayo to Nikola Jović, they’ll need everything they can get.

With that being said, true “strengths” with the Heat are relatively hard to find. They don’t rank all that highly in any major statistical category except turnovers, where they rank sixth. Miami doesn’t score, shoot, defend, or rebound at particularly good rates; in fact, their average opponent outpaces them in virtually all of those categories.

To make matters worse, the Heat will be without superstar forward Jimmy Butler for at least a game or two while he works himself back from a knee injury. Butler leads the team in points and assists per game, and acts as their offensive hub nearly every possession when he’s on the floor.

So what does Miami have going for them?

In a word: coaching. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is in his 16th season, and he brings championship pedigree and a degree of wisdom that most other coaches simply can’t match. Spoelstra’s coaching made the difference in last year's matchup, throwing wonky zones and drawing up brand-new offensive sets throughout the seven-game series.


I promised myself I wouldn’t get fooled again after last year’s heartbreak. I told myself that if my Celtics ever saw Miami in the playoffs again, I’d keep my mouth shut until the series was over. It’s just too hard to write Spoelstra off.

It hasn’t even been a year; I’m reneging on my promise to myself. The gap in talent is just too large. 

Even if Butler plays, the Celtics have six of the top eight players in this series. With or without Butler, even factoring in Spoelstra’s genius, this figures to be a relative walk in the park for one of the most talented teams in recent memory. I can’t see it going any other way.

Tatum plays well, Porzingis dominates, and Butler’s too hobbled to make a real impact even if he does come back. Miami wins one on their home floor, but that’s all. Boston moves on in five games.

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