If one thing has been made clear when talking about the Heat and the Celtics, it's that whenever they meet up, you can pretty much throw everything you've seen this season out the window. It doesn't matter if one team has been steamrolling through the league while the other may have been up and down. How their offenses and defenses rank on the year don't matter. Their point differential or net ratings don't matter.
For whatever reason, every Celts/Heat game is like its own little world where nothing else that's happened during the year matters. It's like something flips on between the two teams which makes sense given their postseason battles since the Bubble. You can't have that type of history and have things not be different whenever you play. The Heat blocking the Celts from the FInals in 2020, the Celts winning Game 7 of the ECF on MIA's floor in 2022, and the Heat returning the favor by doing the exact same thing in 2023, it's been a bloodbath.
If you were to ask any Celtics fan who their "boogeyman" teams are in the league, the answer is obvious. The Heat and the Warriors. That's it, that's the list. I will never care what their records are or how they may be struggling during the year, when we get BOS/GS or BOS/MIA every Celts fan knows deep in their bones that it's going to be a war.
I mean shit, Brad Stevens went out this summer and drastically changed his roster mainly because of one team. Those are his words not mine
Which brings us to tonight. The second meeting between the new look Celtics and the Heat. They met on October 26th (a Celtics win) where both sides were at full strength, but that's so early in the season I think it's OK to take that with a certain grain of salt. Now guys are in rhythm, and in the case of the Heat just pulled off a pretty major upgrade at point guard (I don't care about Rozier's shitty debut, he rules). Assuming both sides are healthy again tonight, it's another great "test" to see how Joe Mazzulla and the Celts handle a team that has very loudly had their number recently.
The biggest difference of course is exactly what Brad said, and exactly what we saw in the first meeting. Porzingis is a game changer in this matchup
The Heat love to switch, and they love to play zone. It's how we've seen them repeatedly beat the Celts in a playoff game/series. The good news is that Porzingis absolutely destroys switches and is the ultimate zone buster, just like we saw in the first meeting. Again, Brad said himself that a team like MIA is the exact reason they went out and got Porzingis.
What I'm now interested in is seeing how both he and Joe react and adjust to whatever Coach Spo is going to change when it comes to his defense. He's the best coach in the league right? A master of adjustments. When these two teams play, it's a chess game, so I want to see how KP/Joe figure that out.
I think we're all also interested to see how someone like Jaylen Brown responds to the Heat's adjustments. As you'll remember, their ability to turn Jaylen over was a huge reason why they won the ECF. In the first meeting this year, things looked a whole lot better
but one game doesn't mean a trend is broken or that a problem is forever fixed. While it was great to see back in October, I'd like to see Jaylen do it again, this time knowing that the Heat will most likely defend him a little differently this time around. I want to see him continue to make smart decisions with the ball and not drive into traffic surrounded by Heat defenders, something he's been MUCH better at so far this year. But like I said, when the Celts play MIA they tend to forget how to play basketball, so seeing Jaylen avoid stuff like that against MIA will always mean more to me than seeing him do it against other teams. There's a mental aspect to this matchup that the Celts need to show they've overcome.
While it certainly won't help my blood pressure, I wouldn't mind seeing another type of game like the first meeting where this new look Celts are once again forced to execute down the stretch of a close game against MIA. Everyone who has watched these teams play since 2020 knows that it is the end of game decisions/executions that ultimately define this matchup. It's also the area that most Celts fans still have some nerves about, so if presented with that opportunity tonight, coming through on the road in a big game in that situation is a great step in the right direction. We've seen Tatum/Brown meltdown in those spots in that building before, so to me stuff like that matters.
Then there's the Terry Rozier factor. Listen, I know it's been a while since he was a Celtic, and he's certainly not the first Celtics point guard to eventually end up on a rival (people tell me Rondo won a title as a Laker, but my brain refuses to acknowledge it), but it's definitely going to be weird to see and is another interesting wrinkle into this matchup. You could tell me Rozier comes out and makes 6 3PM in a Heat win or you could tell me he goes 3-15 like it's GM7 in 2018 and I'd buy it. For a rivalry that already has a lot of juice, bringing in Rozier to the mix adds a decent level of spice.
As we know, over the course of 82 games there are certain matchups that you could consider "measuring stick" games or "tests". For me, every game against MIA fits that description. They've been the thorn in the Celts side, so how the team performs in these games matters more, regardless of a result. It's not a big deal if they win and no deal if they lose, I hate that shit. It's a big game regardless, and we're going to learn something about the 2023-24 Celts one way or another.
If they back up what we saw in October on the road against a healthy MIA team, that matters. If they once again turtle under the pressure and drop a game in horrific fashion, that is going to matter.
There aren't a lot of boogeyman teams for the Celts in the league, but the Heat are absolutely one of them. Going into their building and backing up what we saw in October is a great way to show that time around, they've found a way to get over that mental block.