It’s Heat-Celtics in East finals for third time in four seasons. An early look at the matchup

The next chapter in the Miami Heat-Boston Celtics rivalry is about to begin.

The Eastern Conference finals will feature a best-of-7 series between the eighth-seeded Heat and second-seeded Celtics for the third time in the last four seasons. It marks the sixth time Miami and Boston have faced off in the playoffs, and the fourth time the two teams have met in the conference finals.

The Celtics defeated the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers 112-88 in Game 7 on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden to win their second-round series 4-3 and clinch a matchup against the Heat in the East finals. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics to the victory with 51 points, setting the NBA record for the most points scored in a Game 7 in league history.

Meanwhile, the Heat has had some time off after closing out its second-round series against the fifth-seeded New York Knicks on Friday.

The East finals will begin with Game 1 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., TNT) in Boston.

Game 2 will be on Friday in Boston, Game 3 on Sunday in Miami, Game 4 on May 23 in Miami, Game 5 on May 25 in Boston, Game 6 on May 27 in Miami and Game 7 on May 29 in Boston. All the games will start at 8:30 p.m. and be on TNT.

“It’s a team we’re extremely familiar with,” Tatum said of the Heat after Sunday’s Game 7 win. “Third time in four years playing them in the playoffs. They’re a very well-coached team, they compete with the best of them, they play hard, they defend, they make plays and they figure out a way to win games. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be highly competitive and I’m looking forward to it.”

In the previous five playoff series between the Heat and Celtics, Miami won three of them.

The Celtics won a first-round series against the Heat in 2010 before the Heat won the next two playoff series against the Celtics during the Big 3 era (a second-round series in 2011 and the conference finals in 2012). The Heat also eliminated the Celtics in the 2020 East finals in the Walt Disney World bubble, and last season’s East finals between the Heat and Celtics went the full seven games before Boston ultimately won Game 7 in Miami prior to losing to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals.

“Nothing about last year matters,” Celtics All-Star forward Jaylen Brown said Sunday when asked about facing the Heat in the East finals in back-to-back seasons. “I don’t think Miami is thinking about last year. I think they’re coming out and ready to play basketball, if anything atone for last year. So we just got to come out with a great fresh mind and execute what’s in front of us. I think that’s the key. I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a great challenge and it should be fun.”

The Heat has opened this year’s playoffs with an 8-3 record on its way to the East finals, eliminating the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and ending the Knicks’ season in the second round.

The Celtics have posted an 8-5 record to begin the playoffs on their way to the conference finals, eliminating the seventh-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round and ousting the 76ers in the second round.

The Celtics represent, arguably, the Heat’s toughest test this postseason, especially considering that Milwaukee was without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo for a chunk of its series against Miami in the opening round.

The Celtics closed the regular season with the NBA’s second-best offensive rating, second-best defensive rating and top net rating. Boston is the only team in the league that finished the regular season with both a top-five offensive rating and defensive rating.

The Celtics, under first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla, finished the regular season with the league’s second-best record at 57-25. The Bucks were the only team in the NBA that had a better regular-season record at 58-24.

The Heat and Celtics split their regular-season series 2-2.

Tatum (30.1 points per game in the regular season) and Brown (26.6 points per game in the regular season) are the Celtics’ best offensive players, and their bench is led by this season’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.

One of Boston’s biggest strengths is its three-point shooting. The Celtics closed the regular season with the second-most made threes in the NBA behind only the Warriors, recording the league’s sixth-best team three-point percentage (37.7 percent) on the second-most attempts (42.6 per game).

The Celtics are 36-2 this season when they shot 40 percent or better from three-point range and 29-28 when they shoot under 40 percent from deep.

The Celtics enter the East finals as the healthier team, with their full rotation expected to be available for Game 1 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Heat enters the conference finals without starting guard Tyler Herro and reserve guard Victor Oladipo. The Heat lost Herro to a broken right hand in Game 1 of the first round and he’s not expected back until the NBA Finals at the earliest and Oladipo will miss the rest of the playoffs after tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee in Game 3 of the first round.

This marks the Heat’s 10th East finals appearance in the franchise’s 35 seasons — all coming during Pat Riley’s 28 seasons with the organization. Miami has also advanced to the conference finals in three of the last four seasons and seven of the last 13 seasons under coach Erik Spoelstra.

The Heat is just the second No. 8 seed in league history to make it to the conference finals. A No. 8 seed has never won an NBA championship.

The winner of the Heat-Celtics series will advance to the NBA Finals to take on the winner of the Western Conference finals between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA Finals are scheduled to begin June 1.