2023 NBA playoffs: Celtics need a reminder that Heat roster is mostly mediocre
Tomase: Celtics need a reminder that Heat roster is mostly mediocre originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Forget about Playoff Jimmy, the Heat's culture, and Pat Riley glowering courtside like The Godfather. The Celtics must embrace a simple fact: they're far more talented than their opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals.
They apparently need a refresher, because in Game 1 they treated the Heat like the D-Wade-LeBron-Bosh vintage instead of the box of mismatched Legos they actually are. Miami is tough and tested, but the NBA is a talent league and the Celtics might roster seven of the top nine players in the series. That's a mismatch, if only the Celtics would start playing like it.
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Outside of the incomparable Jimmy Butler and All-Star Bam Adebayo, the Heat raided their roster from the G League. Let's break down exactly who's who in the hope that the Celtics recognize the opportunity to exert their superiority.
They're losing to Caleb Martin. He went undrafted out of Nevada after transferring from NC State alongside twin brother Cody. He started his career in the G League before playing a couple of nondescript seasons with the Hornets. The Heat signed him last year and the Celtics targeted him in the 2022 conference finals. He put up a minus-23 in the first six games before sitting out Game 7. On Wednesday night, the Celtics let him score 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including a dagger 3 in the final minutes.
They're losing to Max Strus. A late bloomer in high school, Strus landed at Div. II Lewis University for two years before transferring to DePaul. He went undrafted and joined the Celtics for the 2019 summer league, impressing with his catch-and-shoot ability, but not enough to claim the final roster spot over Javonte Green. The Celtics cut him and he joined his hometown Bulls. He spent time in the G League, where he tore his ACL and was sidelined for nearly a year. The Heat came calling in 2020 and now he's a starter. He, too, scored 15 on Wednesday, on 6-of-10 shooting. He's a gunner from 3 and a defensive pest.
They're losing to Gabe Vincent. Like Martin and Strus, Vincent played four years of college basketball, in this case at UC Santa Barbara, the alma mater of former Celtics Brian Shaw and Connor Henry, and pretty much nobody else. He spent two years in the G League before catching on with the Heat in 2020. Guess what he scored in Game 1? Yup, 15 points, and on an efficient six shots.
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They're losing to Kyle Lowry. He was very much drafted and never played in the G League. But he's 37 and has been around so long that the opposing backcourt in his very first game 17 years ago was Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Lowry was yet another member of the 15-point club in Game 1, and it felt like all of them came in a three-minute span of the second quarter. He won a title with the Raptors and is tough as nails, but he shouldn't be lighting you up.
They're losing to Kevin Love. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft and is a former all-NBA selection, but he has entered the supporting player phase of his career, one step above Blake Griffin. The Cavaliers, with designs on a deep playoff run, thought so little of him that they bought him out in February, clearing his path to the Heat. He scored only eight points in the opener, but three of them came on a 2-on-1 when he eschewed a clear path to the basket to step behind the line and go splash.
Those are just some of the guys beating the Celtics. It shouldn't matter how ruthlessly Butler embraces the moment. He's one man. The Celtics are the better team, and it's time they start believing it.