Wednesday, March 29

News, injury updates, and analysis from the Eastern Conference finals

You can watch Game 7 on ESPN and listen on 98.5 in the Boston area.

The Celtics are searching for their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 2010, and their first title since 2008.

Chad Finn, Nicole Yang, Katie McInerney, and Scott Thurston will be offering live updates and analysis leading up to and throughout the game. Follow along below.

Live play-by-play | Live box score

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Scoring update: 9:00, first quarter — 8:51 p.m.

Celtics 9, Heat 1.

Jaylen Brown has four points; Marcus Smart has 3.

And we’re off. But what should we expect from Herro? — 8:45 p.m.

Yang: As for Tyler Herro’s return, I wonder how much he’ll actually be able to play. His offensive spark off the bench is certainly valuable, but the Heat players taking his minutes — Gabe Vincent and Victor Oladipo — have been serviceable. If Herro gives it a go and looks anything but 100 percent, I assume Erik Spoelstra will pull the plug early. If he stays in the game, I expect the Celtics to pick on his defensive limitations relentlessly. 

Finn: It’s going to be interesting to see how quickly the Celtics try to get a favorable offensive matchup on him when he checks in. I’m going five seconds into the first possession.

Finn’s two big questions for the Celtics — 8:40 p.m.

By Chad Finn

1. Will Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown play aggressively yet under control?

If you had looked at a box score and saw that Tatum scored 30 points on 9 of 12 shooting, you’d assume it was an excellent and efficient performance, one that likely led to a Celtics win. That was his stat line in Game 6 and … it did not lead to a Celtics win, in part because he took just two shots in the fourth quarter. Tatum has done a good job for the most part in the second half of the season in involving his teammates and resisting iso ball. But he cannot go so far as allowing himself to be taken out of the game as a scoring threat, especially now that it’s Game 7. I expect him to rise to the occasion. I’m more concerned about Brown, who scored just 2 points in the second half in Game 6, both on free throws, and played dismally down the stretch, missing a pair of free throws and charging into Victor Oladipo on a dunk attempt when the Celtics desperately needed a 3-pointer. Tatum has more turnovers than Brown in this series, but Brown’s have generally been more exasperating, and when he’s asked about them, he’s indicated he’s not getting foul calls. Maybe so, but they’re foolish plays. Both of the Celtics’ stars need to play well — and with poise.

2. Marcus Smart needs to play better on both ends. (OK, that one’s not a question)

In Game 3, Smart rolled his ankle at what looked like a 90-degree angle. It was ugly, and inspiring that he returned later in the game. But he missed Game 4, and it’s clear the injury — which would probably keep him out a couple of weeks in the regular season — is affecting his play. There was no shame in struggling to contain Jimmy Butler in Game 6 — Butler scored 14 of his points during the 35 possessions Smart defended him — but he hasn’t been making (or been able to make) those trademark hustle plays. And offensively, his decision-making has to be on point. It wasn’t in Game 6, when he took a team-high 15 shots. A few of those were late-in-the-shot-clock heaves, but others were just plain bad looks. He needs to make sure Brown and particularly Tatum get their touches, and he needs to help the Celtics’ other players who struggled in Game 6 (Al Horford, Grant Williams) get good looks. The Celtics must have Good Marcus tonight, even if he is not anywhere near Healthy Marcus.

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Yang’s two big questions for the Heat — 8:35 p.m.

By Nicole Yang

My two big questions for the Heat are…

1. Can Jimmy Butler do it again?

Butler willed his team to victory in Game 6, scoring 47 points and knocking down some ridiculous shots. After looking hobbled by his right knee (he was dealing with inflammation in Games 4 and 5) Butler came back to life and did everything he does best.

Not only was he getting to line and attacking the basket, but he also made 4 of his 8 shots from behind the arc. The 3-point shooting is not a primary element of Butler’s game, but even if he just sticks to his bread and butter — operating efficiently in the mid-range and drawing contact — the Heat are going to be in good shape.

The question is: How will 46 minutes in Game 6 impact his banged-up knee?

2. Can the rest of the Heat make their 3-pointers?

Butler will get all the headlines — and deservedly so — but a key part of Miami’s win Friday was their 3-point shooting. After finishing the regular season with the best 3-point percentage (37.9) in the league, the Heat have struggled to shoot from range this postseason. In the conference semifinals against Philadelphia, they made just 29.8 percent of their 3-point attempts. In Games 1-5 against Boston, they made just 29.2 percent. In Game 6, however, they connected on 42.9 percent, including some makes with little time left on the shot clock.

What does the FTX Arena scoreboard have to do with Boston? — 8:30 p.m.

The vibe inside FTX Arena — 8:20 p.m.

The Celtics just took the court for a few more warm-up drills, to a smattering of boos — but you can’t hear much over the DJ.

The clock reads about 14 minutes until it’s time to start pregame introductions.

Why the Celtics skipped shootaround — 8:00 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

The Celtics have generally stuck with routines during this postseason, but coach Ime Udoka altered them slightly on Sunday, when he cancelled his team’s morning shootaround before Game 7 of the conference finals against the Heat.

Boston had held shootarounds prior to each late game of this postseason.

“Fresh legs, energy, juice,” Udoka said. “The series is what it is. There’s no surprises from either side, and we want energy. It was optional, but a lot of the guys go in and get shots, anyway. Get out of the monotony of doing the same thing and keeping our legs and fresh energy for tonight.”

This is Boston’s second consecutive seven-game series, and games have been played every other day throughout. Star forwards Jayson Tatum (693) and Jaylen Brown (643) entered the night second and fourth in the NBA in postseason minutes played.

Also, guard Marcus Smart has been battling an ankle sprain, and Udoka said center Robert Williams will likely be listed as questionable for the remainder of these playoffs as he continues to work through expected knee tightness following March 30 surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

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What to watch: Derrick White’s impact — 7:30 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

Although White has been valuable to the Celtics in many ways, his confidence as a scorer has appeared shaken at times since he was acquired from the Spurs in February. But his fourth quarter Friday night was his finest as a Celtic. He scored 11 of his 22 points and led a comeback that eventually fizzled. Momentum has shifted suddenly in these playoffs, both for teams and players, but if White can carry some of those good vibes into Game 7, it could be a difference-maker.

Warriors are not taking another run to NBA Finals for granted — 7:10 p.m.

By Gary Washburn

The Golden State Warriors should be accustomed to reaching the NBA Finals, having beaten the Dallas Mavericks Thursday to advance for the sixth time in the past eight years. But returning to this level is not lost on the Warriors’ veterans, all of whom are in the latter half of their careers.

As brilliant as he is, Stephen Curry is 34 and is finishing his 13th NBA season. Draymond Green is 32 and is completing season No. 10 but he’s been beset by injuries over the past four seasons. Klay Thompson, 32, is returning from two full seasons out with a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles’.

Their return to the Finals was not at all expected. The Phoenix Suns were considered the favorites in the Western Conference, and they cruised to the best record in the NBA, with their eyes on capturing their first title. But the Suns were shockingly knocked off by the Mavericks, and the Warriors overcame the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies and then overwhelmed the Mavericks.

Golden State is back. The dynasty continues and those who have been there for the previous five appearances are appreciative.

Read the rest of Washburn’s Sunday Basketball Notes here.

The Celtics can’t afford to have Jaylen Brown’s slump carry over — 7:00 p.m.

By Gary Washburn

Jaylen Brown puts some pressure on Jimmy Butler as the Heat star tries to drive the ball.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The Celtics are going to need Jaylen Brown to show up in a big way in Game 7 of this exhausting Eastern Conference finals series with the Heat.

He may well do it — even though they’re still waiting for him to show up for the second half of Game 6.

Brown scored 20 points in the Heat’s relentless 111-103 series-tying victory Friday night at the Garden, but just 2 came in the second half. He did not score a single bucket and attempted just two shots after the break.

His lone pair of second-half points came on free throws with just under eight minutes remaining to cut the Miami lead to 89-87.

It was either team’s game to win at that point. A few minutes later, the Heat seized control and the Celtics faded in part because of a pair of free throws Brown missed.

Read the rest of Washburn’s On Basketball column here.

Tyler Herro will try to play — 6:50 p.m.

Heat guard Tyler Herro, who missed Game 3, 4, and 5, will try to play tonight.

He’s been dealing with a groin injury, but will warm up “with the intent to play.”

Marcus Smart, Robert Williams will play — 6:45 p.m.

Marcus Smart and Robert Williams have both been battling pain throughout this series. But with a trip to the Finals on the line, they’ll both be playing this evening.

Smart is nursing an ankle sprain suffered against the Heat. Williams is just two months out from surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

What to watch: A fast start — 6:30 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

In general, rowdy playoff crowds can provide a boost at the start of a game. But if things go sour, that edge can be negated quite quickly. During this series, home-court advantage has been virtually nonexistent, particularly early in games.

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The Celtics have a minus-15.2 first-quarter net rating during their three home games, and a plus-15.5 mark in the three games in Miami. That’s one of the reasons the prospect of playing Game 7 on the road, a historically daunting task, does not seem so crushing.

“We’d like to get off to better starts, put some pressure on the opponent when they’re in that situation, similar to what we did against Milwaukee in Game 7,” Udoka said. “That’s our mind-set coming in. Obviously going into [Miami] we want to start better. We have confidence in going down there winning, too, but we have to get ourselves off to better starts, get ourselves easy baskets and not give them life early in the game.”

Miami had been undefeated at home during these playoffs entering this series, but it is 1-2 against Boston.

What to watch: Freeing up the Js — 6:20 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

Miami’s defense continues to swarm Jayson Tatum and, to a lesser extent, Jaylen Brown. This is nothing new. Ime Udoka has encouraged both players to make the right reads out of double teams early in games so that the secondary options can put pressure on the Heat’s defense and create openings for the two stars later in the game, when they are needed most.

But that approach failed in Game 6, when the rest of the team combined to go 3 for 18 in the first half. That allowed the Heat to feel comfortable smothering Tatum and Brown in the second, and the duo attempted a total of just seven shots after halftime. That just won’t work.

“Miami, that was their job, to try to take it out of their hands,” Udoka said. “Derrick [White] had it going a little bit, but we always want to stay aggressive and make the right play. At the same time, they are our scorers, they’re our leading scorers, and obviously in the fourth quarter, we need them to bring it home. So we’ve got to do a better job finding them, getting them the ball and putting them in spots knowing how the defense is guarding them.”

What to watch: Clutch moments — 6:10 p.m.

By Adam Himmelsbach

When the Celtics have won during these playoffs, they’ve won big. Their last seven wins have come by 8 points or more, including romps by 25 and 20 points in this series against Miami.

But when games actually get close, the results have been less encouraging. Boston has played seven playoff games in which the score was within 5 points in the final three minutes, and it’s been outscored by 29.4 points per 100 possessions in these situations. It has also turned over the ball more than 20 percent of the time during these moments. It’s a small sample size, but the Celtics have to show they’re prepared to thrive in the clutch.

Mike Breen out for tonight — 6:00 p.m.

By Chad Finn

Mike Breen, the lead NBA play-by-play voice for ESPN and ABC, has tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss tonight’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and Celtics.

Mark Jones will replace him on the call, alongside the usual analysts, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. Jones has been calling this series on ESPN Radio, along with analyst Doris Burke.

Per an ESPN spokesperson, Breen feels fine and expects to call Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday.

Chad Finn can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn. Nicole Yang can be reached at [email protected] her on Twitter @nicolecyang. Katie McInerney can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @k8tmac. Scott Thurston can be reached at [email protected]

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