However, the Celtics will also be shorthanded, with starters Marcus Smart — the Defensive Player of the Year — and Al Horford being listed as out for Game 1. Smart is dealing with a foot sprain he suffered in Game 7 against the Heat, while Al Horford has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Lowry has played just five postseason games for the Heat due to a nagging hamstring injury. He initially suffered the injury against the Hawks in the first round and reaggravated it after returning to the lineup in Game 3 against the Sixers. Gabe Vincent is expected to draw the start with Lowry on the shelf again.
“I’d put it this way, you don’t want to play with it,” Lowry said during the second-round series against the Sixers.
The 35-year-old Lowry started 63 games for the Heat this season. He averaged 13.4 points and 7.5 assists, also producing on the defensive side of the ball. But with 15-plus seasons under his belt, Lowry’s leadership and experience are tough things to be replaced.
Heat Feel Good About Gabe Vincent
Luckily, Vincent has been able to step up in Lowry’s absence, providing a spark out of the starting lineup for Miami. He’s averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 assists per game, logging 23.9 minutes. It’s his first real playoff experience after averaging just over four minutes in his previous postseason with the Heat.
“I’ve said it before, our approach to all of this is just to be open-minded,” Spoelstra said. “We have great competitors. Gabe is a great competitor and he’s been able to shapeshift into different roles, which is really important. That is a talent.”
As Spoelstra notes, Lowry missed some games during the regular season while primed his squad for this situation against a very good Boston squad.
“It definitely has helped, the fact that we’ve had so many games and experiences, including the playoffs without Kyle,” said Spoelstra. “The playoffs are totally unpredictable, but you gain trust through experience and seeing success during stress. Gabe has been able to fill in and do it in a way that we’re able to function on both sides of the ball. It might look different, but everyone is still confident that we can play our game.”
Victor Oladipo Also Filling Key Role for Heat
Victor Oladipo has also stepped up in the absence of Lowry. The former All-Star put together some nice performances during the Heat’s second-round series against the Sixers, notching double-digit points on three occasions.
“At the end of the day, that’s my role on this team and I just go in there and play it to the best of my ability,” Oladipo said. “I can’t really control anything else but my mentality and what I bring to the game. I just try to go in there and make it tough defensively. Offensively, just be aggressive, make the right reads and be smart. Obviously, I haven’t been here all year, but I’ve been watching and paying close attention. When I go in there, I trust my preparation, trust my instincts, and everything else will take care of itself.”
He’ll be needed as the Heat look to punch their ticket back to the NBA Finals.