Erik Spoelstra was weighing what he’d just seen the other night, after the Celtics knocked off the Heat in what was the second game of the season for both teams. Spoelstra was not willing to crown the Celtics champs of the East here in October. That’s no surprise. He has some reason to chafe at the way Boston has gone about team building, frantically revamping the roster each of the past three seasons like squirrels looking for the next nut.
The Heat have taken the opposite approach, favoring stability over star-chasing. So Spoelstra’s Heat lined up against new Celtics starters Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, while trotting out a familiar starting five of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love and Bam Adebayo.
“They’re different,” Spoelstra said, stopping well short of saying they’re better. “We’ve been at this with them for four years since the bubble, it really has been a privilege to face them in the playoffs, you know, so many times. But both teams have changed. That’s the way this league goes, that’s the way life goes. So, they’re different. There’s still enough familiar faces, the core is the same, our core is the same, we’re a little bit different as well. You just want to compete against teams that you respect, that you’ve had battles with.”
The Celtics have had some wild swings since the Heat saw them in the Eastern Conference finals in the bubble. That team had Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker. The Heat saw Boston two years later in the conference finals again, and with Hayward and Walker long gone, but with Al Horford back in place and Derrick White joining midseason. Last year, it was Malcolm Brogdon who was the big new Celtics addition.
Brogdon won Sixth Man of the Year, then was kicked to the curb. The Celtics tried to send him off for Porzingis, but when that failed, they sent off beloved guard Marcus Smart, and used Brogdon to add Holiday. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are still there, but every year seems to bring a chance for Celtics boss Brad Stevens to reshuffle the deck around them.
Miami has made changes, too, over the years. They’ve added end-of-the-line veterans Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love. And they’ve not added a whole lot else around the Adebayo-Love-Herro trio. Miami could have put a bit more effort into the chase for a roster upgrade this summer—the Damian Lillard situation was agonizing—but they appear a lot less anxious about their lack of star power than the rest of us.
“Every year the Heat’s championship window has closed. Every single year we say that, and then here they are back,” former coach Doc Rivers, now an ESPN analyst, said. “Listen, their culture beats people, beats teams a lot. Do I think they need another guy to get over the hump? Yeah, I do. I think they have enough to make a run, but do they have enough to win it? I think they need another player, another closer per se.
“It doesn’t have to be Lillard. There are other guys available.”
Indeed, there are still other players on the trade market for the Heat. But Miami showed minimal interest in bringing in Holiday when he was available, and they’ve shown zero interest in getting involved with the James Harden Experience. Spoelstra and Butler and Heat jeffe Pat Riley keep telling us they’re fine with what they have, fine with being the same.
The Celtics have taken the opposite approach. They’re different. Better? We don’t know that just yet. But where the Heat are the same, the Celtics are certainly different.