Heat aim to solidify playoff spot vs. Celtics

NBA

Both the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics want to make the NBA playoffs without having to take part in the league’s play-in tournament.

One of them, however, will likely end up going the less desired route.

Miami (37-31) will visit the Celtics (35-33) on Tuesday night for the second consecutive game.

On Sunday, the Heat gave itself a little separation from Boston in the Eastern Conference standings as Miami held on for a 130-124 road victory.

The NBA will have the Nos. 7-10 seeds in each division try and play their way into the playoffs once the regular season concludes this weekend.

By winning Sunday, sixth-place Miami took a two-game lead on the No. 7 Celtics.

Miami, with another win Tuesday, would all but assure itself a spot in the playoffs with Boston stuck trying to win its way in.

The Heat have three games remaining following their game in Boston and a victory Tuesday would give Miami a three-game lead in the standings.

“Everybody knew the circumstances, right?” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Everybody knows where we stand. They know it, we know it, and they outplayed us. You’ve got to give them credit for that.”

Miami came out firing on Sunday, racing to a 26-point lead at halftime after shooting 65.1 percent from the field.

Boston quickly made it a game coming out of halftime and, by the fourth, cut Miami’s lead to six. With 2:42 remaining, Duncan Robinson (22 points) hit a three-pointer and Miami had a little more breathing room.

“I know that we can do better, do more, especially in the beginning of the games,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum said. “Just play with a little bit more toughness and play faster. When we get stops in the second half we play fast and play to our advantage, and we look pretty good. So we’ve just got to start like that.”

Jimmy Butler had just four points in the first half but helped Miami pull out the win by scoring 22 in the second half. Butler ended with a team-high 26 points and hit seven of eight free throws.

Also leading Miami was Bam Adebayo (20 points) and Trevor Ariza (19).

“It always feels great to win,” Butler said. “But I don’t think that we closed the game like we’re supposed to or capable of, either. At the same time, we’ve got to be better. … We did our job. We can do better. We should, we will be better.”

The Heat comes into Tuesday with wins in nine of its past 12 games. Miami is 1-1 against the Celtics this season.

Boston, which lost to Miami in the 2020 Eastern Conference finals just outside of Orlando, has lost three of its past four and six of nine.

On Sunday, the Celtics were led by a game-high 30 points from Evan Fournier. Tatum had 29 points and Kemba Walker had 18.

The Celtics were without Jaylen Brown, who has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle. Robert Williams missed the second half with a toe injury.

“They made a great push,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But we were able to get the ball to Jimmy, get to our spots and just play off of his decision-making. That just gives your team an incredible amount of confidence going down the stretch in close games.”

–Field Level Media

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