MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra knows exactly what kind games he expects to see as his proud Heat squad prepares for an Eastern Conference finals showdown with the Boston Celtics.
“Pat’s [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said after Monday’s practice. “This is like a throwback series. If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins. That’s what you expect. Really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it’s fitting that we’re moving into the conference finals.”
The Heat speak with a great deal of respect while discussing the challenges the Celtics pose in this series. Heat players and coaches see a lot of similarities between themselves and the Celtics group that just finished off the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, especially in terms of how they play and defend.
“Either team that we were to end up facing whether it be Milwaukee or Boston, is a really, really, really good team,” Heat swingman Jimmy Butler said. “It is Boston. We’re looking forward to it. I guess you got to beat the best to be the best.”
In order to beat the Celtics, Butler knows that his team must play great team defense on Celtics star Jayson Tatum throughout the series.
“He’s one of the best in the game right now,” Butler said. “As much attention as he draws on the offensive end — and then I think what’s really impressive is the way that he’s picked up his defensive intensity. You got to tip your hat to that and respect him, I think those are the guys that you want to go up against.”
The reason the Heat remain so steadfast in the belief within themselves is because of the fact they have won so many different ways throughout the year. No matter who is on the floor, they have found a way — a fact that must hold true if they want to advance to the NBA Finals given Kyle Lowry’s uncertain status as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury.
“Honestly, because we’ve done it with so many different lineups,” veteran forward P.J. Tucker explained. “So many different teammates. We had G League guys come and help us win games that we’ve figured out a way all year long. We missed Bam for a bunch of time, Jimmy’s missed games, Kyle’s missing, we’ve just figured it out all year.
“I think every player on our team has that ‘next man up’ mentality and people have stepped up all year. I think that’s what gives us that confidence and that genuine want and nature to win together, because everybody on this team cares.”
Both Spoelstra and Butler echoed a similar sentiment with Game 1 looming on Tuesday night.
“Our guys love competition and love being challenged,” Spoelstra said. “They love taking on big challenges. That’s what we’re facing. Boston has played as well as anyone in the entire league once they got to 2022. It’s not by accident. They’re playing very strong basketball. They do it on both ends.
“I say throwback, I really want to clarify. It’s not going to be like football. We don’t need the extra officiating, or we don’t need anyone thinking they need to clean it up. It’s not going to be like that. It’s just that you have two really committed defensive teams, that should lend itself if both teams are playing at a high level, it shouldn’t be 150 point games.”