The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics have spent their entire Eastern Conference finals series shuffling players in and out of the lineup due to injuries, and now, with Game 7 mere hours away, we know who will take the floor and who will be out. For Boston, both Marcus Smart (ankle) and Robert Williams III (knee) were listed as questionable for Game 7, but both are available. Miami is similarly fortunate. Tyler Herro, the Sixth Man of the Year dealing with a groin injury, returns for Game 7. The four other players listed as questionable for the Heat were Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Max Strus (hamstring), P.J. Tucker (knee) and Gabe Vincent (hamstring). All four are set to play in Game 7. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Game 7 that tonight is “all hands on deck.”
Herro’s return is undoubtedly the story here. He has missed Miami’s past three games, and the Heat have scored a paltry 273 points in those games without him. Their offense, putting up just 97.8 points per 100 possessions since Herro got hurt, would rank dead-last in the NBA over the course of the regular season. That put an enormous amount of pressure on Lowry and Jimmy Butler to create all of Miami’s shots. They did so wonderfully in Game 6, combining for 65 points and 18 assists in a hard-fought victory, but turning around and playing again two days after such a draining win will be no easy feat. Getting Herro back, even if it’s a diminished version of him, will help lighten their load significantly.
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Boston’s injuries were a bit more manageable. Smart has clearly been hobbled since injuring his ankle earlier in the series, but Derrick White has filled in ably for him at times this postseason. The Celtics could lean on Al Horford and Grant Williams to play the bulk of their front-court minutes without Williams, but the true advantage of having him in the fold is that it allows them not to rely on Daniel Theis for critical minutes. The vertical element he adds on both sides of the ball is something that no other Celtic can replicate, so having him on the floor will make life harder for Miami.
The winner of this series can breathe a sigh of relief. The NBA Finals don’t start until Thursday, giving the victor in Game 7 three days of rest before facing Golden State. This series has been played on an every other day schedule, which has been particularly tough for Boston as it played the last five games of its second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks on the same schedule and got no extra time off between series. The winning side will get some badly needed R&R before the Finals begin.
Of course, the loser will get a whole offseason’s worth of rest, and that’s not something either side wants. Injuries are inevitable at this time of year. Both sides are trying to play through them. Only time will tell which will be more successful.