Faced with the option of scheduling the fourth game of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals on a weekday afternoon or opposite “Monday Night Football,” the NBA and ESPN chose a different, unorthodox option on Thursday night.
The league announced that the Heat and Celtics will take three days off after playing Game 3 at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN.
Instead of remaining on an every-other-day schedule, Miami and Boston won’t play Game 4 until 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN.
The teams will play Game 5, if needed, at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25 on ESPN. The scheduling of Game 5 that day avoids a conflict with a Miami Dolphins-Jacksonville Jaguars game the night before and a Miami Hurricanes-Florida State game the night after.
Game 6, if needed, would be Sunday, Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m on ESPN, a start time that gives Heat-Celtics a 50-minute head start on the New Orleans Saints-Green Bay Packers game on NBC.
The NBA did not say when a possible Game 7 would be played.
The decision to have a three-day break in the series solved two problems:
1) ESPN’s inability to televise a Monday NBA game in prime time because of its commitment to televise a Las Vegas-New Orleans game on the day of the 50th anniversary of Monday Night Football and
2) the NBA’s concern that the Eastern finals could end significantly sooner than the Western finals, which begin on Friday.
ESPN originally informed cable operators that Game 4 would be held at 5 p.m. Monday, leading into Monday Night Football. During its pre-game show Thursday night, ESPN displayed a graphic saying Game 4 would be Monday.
But the NBA and ESPN ultimately decided against that. And there was no appetite to playing Game 4 on Monday night on ABC or ESPN2, opposite Monday Night Football on ESPN, with NFL games having crushed NBA games in the ratings during two head-to-head matchups in recent days.
In fact, ABC will simulcast ESPN’s MNF game next week because it’s the 50th anniversary of the package.
The break could benefit the Celtics because if gives Gordon Hayward more time to recover from an ankle injury that has sidelined him for 11 games. The expectation is Hayward will play at some point in this series.
The Heat holds a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics in the East finals after Thursday’s 106-101 Heat win.
While conference finals games aren’t televised locally on Fox Sports Sun, there is a one-hour pregame show featuring the Heat broadcast crew on Heat.com. There’s also postgame coverage on Fox Sports Sun, and all games can still be heard on 790 The Ticket for the English broadcast and WRTO Mix 98.3FM for the Spanish broadcast.
This marks the Heat’s first conference finals appearance since the final season of the Big 3 era in 2014. It’s also Miami’s eighth conference finals appearance in the franchise’s 32 seasons — all coming during Riley’s 25 seasons with the organization.
The last time a team seeded fifth or lower made it to the NBA Finals came in 1999, when the eighth-seeded New York Knicks represented the East in the championship series.
The winner of the East finals will advance to the NBA Finals to take on the Western Conference champion, with the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets beginning their West finals series on Friday.