NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Heat and Celtics fight to avoid play-in tournament

By Sports Desk May 11, 2021

The Boston Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four years, but this time they are in danger of missing the playoffs entirely.

Boston (35-33) are seventh in the east heading into Tuesday's home clash against rivals the Miami Heat (37-31), and at this stage they are on track to feature in the NBA's inaugural play-in tournament next week.

If the Celtics, who lost 130-124 to the Heat on Sunday, go down to Miami again, it would all but seal Boston's fate.

Last season's NBA Finals participants Miami are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference – the top six advance directly to the playoffs.

The play-in tournament will include teams with the seventh through to the 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference, taking place between May 18-21.

There is a lot on the line with postseason berths up for grabs at TD Garden.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat

If you needed more proof of Butler's importance to the Heat, look no further than Sunday's showdown. Miami's go-to guy put up 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds on the road in Boston, where he recorded his 17th double-double of the season.

Butler's character has often been questioned following stops in Minnesota and Philadelphia after making a splash with the Chicago Bulls, but he continues to impress in Miami, where he is averaging 21.6 points, a career-high 7.2 assists and a career-best 7.0 rebounds. The five-time All-Star also boasts a field-goal percentage of 49.6 – the best mark of his career so far.

Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics

With Jaylen Brown suffering a season-ending wrist injury, the Celtics will rely heavily on another of their All-Stars – Tatum, who had 29 points in a losing effort against the Heat last time out.

Tatum is enjoying a career year, having elevated himself to an All-Star calibre forward with the Celtics last year. The third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum is averaging 26.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists – all career highs in 2020-21, while he is also averaging the highest number of minutes on the court (35.9) amid Boston's frustrating season.

KEY BATTLE – PRESSURE ON KEMBA

Kemba Walker arrived in Bostom amid much fanfare in 2019 but the four-time All-Star has only shown glimpses, albeit injuries have not helped.

Walker finished with 18 points in the previous game against the Heat, though he was five-for-12 shooting, making just one of his four three-point attempts.

As Tatum carries the load, Walker must provide the necessary support against a Heat roster stacked with shooters in Butler, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Celtics and Heat have split their two games this season, and there is a theme.

After the Celtics beat the Heat 107-105 in January, Miami bounced back on Sunday. The margin of victory has not gone above six points, highlighting just how closely matched these two teams are.

Unsurprising, Tatum (27 points) and Butler (26 points) were the stars of the show in the January encounter.

Related items

  • AFCON matchday preview: Revenge on the cards as giants collide AFCON matchday preview: Revenge on the cards as giants collide

    Ivory Coast and Egypt will contest arguably the tie of the round on Wednesday as the two giants hope to book their passage to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

    Carlos Queiroz's Pharaohs failed to impress during the group stage, ultimately reaching the knockouts thanks to 1-0 wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, teams many would expect them to beat comfortably.

    They got the job done but now come up against one of the more eye-catching teams from the first round in Ivory Coast, who rounded off the group stage with a 3-1 win over defending champions Algeria.

    In Wednesday's other last-16 contest, and the final game of the round, surprise package Equatorial Guinea will hope to continue their promising campaign against Mali, who will be firm favourites.

    Ivory Coast v Egypt (16:00 GMT)

    Mohamed Salah and Egypt have struggled to rise to the occasion so far in Cameroon – if they cannot get themselves up for this, they will surely be heading home.

    This will be the 11th AFCON meeting between these two sides, making it the competition's most-played fixture, and Egypt boast a good record against the Elephants in knockout games.

    Ivory Coast have not been successful in any of the previous four elimination clashes – the two most recent were in the 2006 final when Egypt won on penalties, and the semi-final two years later as they ran out 4-1 winners.

    As such, Ivory Coast will surely feel they have a score to settle, and Egypt's record of losing each of their past two AFCON knockout matches should give them some optimism.

    One to watch: Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)

    He may be struggling to get a look-in at club level with Arsenal, but Pepe is undoubtedly key for the Elephants. Only Algeria's Youcef Belaili (24) was directly involved in more shots than him in the group stage (19 – 12 shots, seven chances created), while the former Lille winger has been directly involved in more goals than any other Ivory Coast player in the tournament so far (three – two goals, one assist).

     

    Mali v Equatorial Guinea (19:00)

    Mali may have come through the group stage unbeaten, but Equatorial Guinea will not be writing themselves off producing a shock here.

    After all, Les Aigles have had to largely rely on penalties to get their goals, highlighting that their route to this stage has not been entirely emphatic, while Equatorial Guinea have overcome greater odds.

    In their previous four AFCON knockout games, they have progressed twice – both of those came in 2015, when they caused upsets by getting past Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    This edition of the tournament has seen its fair share of shocks already. Could Mali be the latest to be guilty of complacency?

    One to watch: Adama Noss Traore (Mali)

    As mentioned, Mali have almost entirely got by on penalties, with three of their four goals coming via Ibrahima Kone's spot-kicks. That meant they scored just once from 27 open play shots in the group stage, yet their non-penalty expected goals (xG) of 3.6 suggests chance creation was not the issue. Traore was their most effective player in that respect with his set-piece deliveries, tallying a squad-high key passes.

     

  • Australian Open: Berrettini makes Italian tennis history again to set up Nadal semi-final Australian Open: Berrettini makes Italian tennis history again to set up Nadal semi-final

    Matteo Berrettini became the first Italian man to reach the Australian Open semi-finals after outlasting Gael Monfils on Tuesday.

    Berrettini had appeared to be on course for a dominant victory, and although Monfils fought back to make it tough, the 25-year-old got the job done 6-4 6-4 3-6 3-6 6-2 in a gruelling encounter.

    Monfils had an uphill struggle amid a sloppy start, with Berrettini breaking to love in the fifth game as the Frenchman committed two unforced errors and a double fault.

    That proved to be the only opportunity Berrettini needed, and he subsequently had few issues seeing out the set from there, though Monfils initially appeared sharper early in the second.

    An astonishing fourth game then left Monfils looking dejected as Berrettini somehow survived 10 deuces to hold serve after almost 20 minutes – the 25 points played here were almost half the first-set total (55).

    Berrettini sensed the mood and went for the kill, losing just two points on serve before going on to close out the set to love.

    A reaction did come, however. Monfils finally got his first break of serve as Berrettini's first double fault gifted him a lifeline, the 35-year-old then easing through the rest of the third set.

    He kept that up in the fourth as well, with two huge forehand winners helping Monfils go a break up to take charge before ultimately levelling the match, but Berrettini had too much in the decider as he broke in the first game.

    Berrettini raced into a 4-0 lead and, although Monfils did pull a couple of games back, the Italian was out of sight and clinched a deserved victory that saw him grab a slice of history.

    DATA SLAM: Berrettini holds his nerve at the crucial moment

    Having lost the previous two sets heading into the decider, it could have been very tempting for Berrettini to completely change up his game, but he remained very focused on accuracy and essentially letting Monfils shoot himself in the foot.

    Berrettini made no double faults and just four unforced errors in the final set, compared to Monfils' combined total of 11, 10 of which came during rallies. The Italian won 80 per cent of his points on serve in the fifth and that mentality was crucial in outlasting his opponent.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

    Berrettini – 51/50

    Monfils – 48/51

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

    Berrettini – 12/2

    Monfils – 15/7

    BREAK POINTS WON

    Berrettini – 4/11

    Monfils – 3/14

  • Fati will not undergo surgery on hamstring injury Fati will not undergo surgery on hamstring injury

    Barcelona have confirmed that Ansu Fati will not undergo surgery on the hamstring injury he sustained against Athletic Bilbao last week.

    Fati was substituted during Thursday's Copa del Rey defeat to Athletic Bilbao, with the club later confirming he had suffered another injury setback.

    Rather than send Fati for surgery, Barca will instead let the 19-year-old's tendon heal naturally by following "a conservative recovery plan".

    The Catalan giants announced the news on their Twitter account on Tuesday, but no timeframe for the winger's lay-off was given.

    According to reports from Spain, Barca are set to be without Fati for several weeks, rather than months.

    However, it still marks another blow for Fati, who appeared to be in tears as he left the pitch against Athletic, with this the latest in a series of problematic injuries.

    Fati has featured in just 10 games across all competitions this season, and he had only recently returned from a two-month absence due to a previous hamstring problem.

    He previously spent 10 months out due to a serious knee injury, only returning to action in September.

    Despite his limited action, Fati is Barcelona's second-highest scorer in 2021-22 with five goals, three fewer than Memphis Depay, who has played 13 more times.

    Fati's goals have come in just 456 minutes of on-pitch action, while he has out-performed his expected goals (xG) of 1.92, suggesting his finishing has been well above standard.

    Writing on his official Instagram account on Sunday, Fati vowed to keep on fighting on his road back from another spell on the sidelines.

    "Unfortunately, I am having to live through the worst part of football," he posted. "But I will never give up! Thank you very much for your messages of support and love!"

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.