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Heat look sets tone in opener of series vs. Celtics

(Photo credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

The eighth-seeded Miami Heat will be in a familiar position when they hit the road to open their Eastern Conference first-round matchup against the top-seeded Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon.

Miami was also the No. 8 seed last season when it played its way to the NBA Finals. The Heat’s path included a seven-game win over Boston in the conference finals before losing to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.

Miami will face a Boston team that led the NBA with 64 wins during the regular season.

“At the end of the day, we just have to bring that Miami Heat culture and that toughness,” Miami rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “We have two games in Boston. We have to set the tone extremely early, impose our will on them and make it really physical.”

Miami bounced back from a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday with a 112-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls in a play-in tournament elimination game Friday night. Tyler Herro collected 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the win. Jaquez added 21 points, Kevin Love scored 16 and Bam Adebayo finished with 13.

The Heat will be without Jimmy Butler, who is expected to miss several weeks due to an MCL injury he suffered on Wednesday night. Butler averaged 20.8 points per game during the regular season.

Miami will also be without Terry Rozier for the series opener. Rozier has been out of action since April 7 due to a neck injury.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m grateful that this locker room has this opportunity. And I think they appreciate it too.”

The Celtics fell 3-0 to the Heat during the regular season. Boston won 119-111 at home on October 27, won 143-110 in Miami on January 25 and posted a 110-106 victory in Miami on February 11.

“At the end of the day, you can’t expect a series to go a certain way,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “You need what it takes. The other team is also trying to win a championship, so you have to respect your opponent. You have to be mentally strong to withstand things. A lot of things happen within a team series.”

Miami won the first three games of the playoff series against Boston last season. After the Celtics won the next three games to even the series, the Heat won Game 7 on the road. Boston is 37-4 at home this season.

“This year feels different, the way we’ve been playing at home,” Boston’s Al Horford said. “We understand that we have to come out and play and perform. I feel like sometimes last year we kind of leaned on, ‘We’re home. Our fans are going to put us over the top.’ Probably the mentality wasn’t the best it should be.

“I feel like we understand now that we have to be ready, and just because we’re here at TD Garden, we’re not automatically going to win. We have done that better this season. .”

This marks the seventh time the Heat and Celtics have met in the playoffs. Miami won four of its previous six games.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Adebayo said. ‘It’s going to be a fight. It will be in the mud. It’s not going to be pretty basketball.”

–Field-level media