A viewers guide for Celtics fans for tonight's Heat vs. Hawks play-in game


Who will the Boston Celtics face in the first round of the NBA playoffs? We should know just after 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The 2023 NBA play-in tournament kicks off Tuesday night, with the Eastern Conference No. 7 seed Miami Heat facing the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. The winner will go to play the Celtics in Round 1 -- Game 1 of that series is already set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday -- while the loser faces the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 matchup (Toronto Raptors vs. Chicago Bulls) for the right to play the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks as the No. 8 seed.

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So, who should Celtics fans root for? Should they want to face Trae Young and the Hawks in the first round, or should they root for a 2022 East finals rematch with the Heat? It's more of a debate than you might think. Here's the skinny on both teams, and the cases for and against them being the better matchup for Boston.

Miami Heat (44-38)

Record in last 10 games: 6-4

Celtics' record vs. Heat this season: 2-2

Leading scorers: Jimmy Butler (22.9 ppg), Bam Adebayo (20.4 ppg), Tyler Herro (20.1)

Team stats: 109.5 points per game (30th in NBA), 109.8 opponent points per game (2nd), 46.0 percent FG (26th), 34.8 3PT (27th)

Why Celtics shouldn't want to face Heat: One word: Experience. This is essentially the same squad that took Boston to Game 7 of the East Finals last season (with the subtraction of P.J. Tucker and the addition of Kevin Love) and head coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the business.

Jimmy Butler is a proven postseason killer who averaged nearly 30 points per game during Miami's 2022 postseason run. The Heat also play ferocious defense -- they ranked sixth in the NBA in steals this season -- and have proven capable of disrupting the Celtics' rhythm by forcing turnovers.

The Celtics still would be favored to win the series (more on that next), but the Heat would make Boston work hard for it.

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Why Celtics should want to face Heat: The roster is mostly the same, but this ain't the same squad that made the East finals last season. Miami had the worst offense in the NBA this season and is an abysmal shooting team, with zero rotation players shooting better than 38 percent from 3-point range. (The Celtics have six such players.)

The Heat also are extremely top-heavy; after Butler, Adebayo and Herro, their next-leading scorer is Max Strus at 11.5 points per game. The 37-year-old Kyle Lowry (11.2 points, 5.1 assists per game) has lost a step even from last season, and the trio of Victor Oladipo, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin aren't consistent enough offensively.

The Celtics leveled up significantly on offense this season (117.9 offensive rating; best in the East), so if they can limit the turnovers, they should be able to run Miami off the floor.

Atlanta Hawks (41-41)

Record in last 10 games: 5-5

Celtics' record vs. Hawks this season: 3-0

Leading scorers: Trae Young (26.2 ppg), Dejounte Murray (20.5 ppg), De'Andre Hunter (15.4 ppg)

Team stats: 118.4 points per game (3rd in NBA), 118.1 opponent points per game (T-25th), 48.3 percent FG (9th), 35.2 3PT (21st)

Why Celtics shouldn't want to face Hawks: The Hawks have their flaws, but scoring isn't one of them. With seven players averaging double figures, Atlanta is a deeper offensive team than Miami: Young and Murray are one of the league's most talented backcourts; Bogdan Bogdanovic is an excellent outside shooter; Clint Capela is a dynamic rim-runner; and Hunter and John Collins both are long, offensive-minded wings averaging north of 15 points per game.

When the Hawks are fully healthy and fully motivated (and that's a big if), they're capable of scoring in bunches and would test Boston's at-times-inconsistent defense.

Why Celtics should want to face Hawks: Why are the Hawks .500 if they have such a good offense? You know the answer: Their defense.

Atlanta's D hasn't improved under new head coach Quin Snyder, and it allowed 120 points or more in half of its games (41 of 82) this season. Three of those games were against the Celtics, who cruised to double-digit victories in both of the games they played with most of their starters on the floor.

The Hawks are remarkably average, never straying more than two games above or below .500 since late November. In theory, Boston would expend far less energy dispatching Atlanta than Miami.

Final verdict

The Heat are the better team and would be the tougher first-round matchup, so Celtics fans should root for Atlanta on Tuesday night. That said...

The C's are the second-best team in basketball and shouldn't sweat either first-round opponent. Even if they drop a game or two, they're too deep and too motivated to flame out in the first round.

Boston also has played up (or down) to its competition all season, so you could make the case that Joe Mazzulla's club would play better against Miami knowing that it can't take the Heat lightly.

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