Chris Mannix shares bold prediction for Celtics-Heat playoff rematch originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Celtics and Heat will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year after Boston outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games and Miami dispatched the New York Knicks in six games in their second-round series. Last year's Celtics-Heat series went the full seven games, with Boston advancing to the NBA Finals after surviving a furious Miami comeback in Game 7 that fell short with Jimmy Butler's front-rimmed 3-pointer.
Will the 2023 rematch be similarly competitive? Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix doesn't believe so. In fact, Mannix sees this series ending well before Game 7 despite the talents of Butler and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
"They have the best coach in the NBA in Erik Spoelstra," Mannix said on NBC Sports Boston's Sports Sunday. "They will throw a lot of junk defenses at Boston that will make them get uncomfortable and make them make adjustments. And they have a superstar (Butler) who believes he's the best player on the floor no matter who he goes up against and can get his own shot against anybody.
"All that being said, Celtics in five. They are a better team, and it's not even close."
The Celtics indeed are the better team on paper. The Heat entered the postseason as the No. 8 seed after getting routed by the Atlanta Hawks at home in the first round of the NBA play-in tournament. Mannix admitted Miami made a "remarkable turnaround" by getting past the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks and No. 5 seed New York Knicks, but noted Boston is much better than both of those teams, especially considering Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was limited by injury in the first round.
"They are the best team the Heat have faced by a lot," Mannix said of the Celtics. "I just don't think this Heat team, without Tyler Herro in the lineup, is going to be able to hang with the Celtics. The Celtics have a lot of guys they can throw at Jimmy Butler, beginning with Jaylen Brown. Al Horford is a different animal altogether at the five spot than what guys like Mitchell Robinson were for Bam Adebayo. I think if the Celtics are sharp, this series is over in five."
That last part is a big "if," however. The Celtics were the better team than Atlanta in Round 1 and Philly in Round 2 but still lost five combined games (including three at home) while struggling with inconsistency and poor late-game execution. Miami split its season series with Boston and won the last two games, so Butler and Co. won't be intimidated in the least by the Celtics and will have a massive chip on their shoulder as underdogs for the third straight playoff series.
The Celtics can win this series in five, but it will take them playing to their full potential in four of five games -- something they've yet to do this postseason.