The Eastern Conference Finals series between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics is going to seven games.
These are two very complete teams that have multiple guys that are able to take over the court on any given night. The Heat have excelled all year long with a tough defense and lots of ball movement on offense, but the Celtics are playing great as Jayson Tatum is proving himself as one of the best offensive players in the league. For the Heat to edge out the Celtics and advance to the NBA Finals, there’s a couple things that have to happen.
First, Bam Adebayo can’t slow down. Adebayo finished the season as runner up for the most improved player award because of his athleticism on defense and his ability to anchor the offense from the high post. He takes the ball from the elbow and makes great passes to players cutting through the paint or gives handoffs and sets screens with guards at the top of the key.
He’s hasn’t shown signs of letting up, but he’s young and going further in the playoffs than he ever has before. His continued success is a key factor in the Heat winning the series.
Defensively, Adebayo is going to have some big assignments. He played great last series against Milwaukee while guarding presumed MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. This series, he’ll have some very different assignments. He’ll probably start games guarding Celtics center Daniel Theis, a physical big who tends to stay close to the hoop. Adebayo will use his strength to keep the matchup away from the basket in addition to his length to contest shots and swat entry passes.
Adebayo will likely switch on to guards like Jaylen Brown, who he had success matched up against earlier in the year. Adebayo has the versatility to guard almost anybody on the court, and he’ll show it throughout the series. He isn’t going to be asked to do anything he’s not used to. Instead, he just needs to keep consistent with what he’s done both offensively and defensively.
The Celtics can do a lot of different things on offense. Jayson Tatum can create shots from deep, Brown does a great job coming off screens and Kemba Walker penetrates really well off the dribble. The Heat aren’t going to be able to shut down any of these things. To win the series, they need to disrupt the Celtics’ offensive rhythm.
The Heat played more zone defense than any team in the league during the regular season. During the playoffs though, they’ve barely needed to show it. They have a long list of guys who can come on to the court and play really solid man defense. Jimmy Butler, Adebayo and Goran Dragić helped earned the Heat a spot as a top-ten defense in the league during the regular season before adding league veterans Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder to the roster.
Iguodala and Crowder, both great defenders, are going to see a lot of time guarding Tatum this series. It will be very difficult to shut down Tatum, but the Heat’s sound defense is a must to slow down the top offense in this year’s playoffs.
Another thing the Heat need to do to win this series is keep up their shooting from three. Miami was the number two team in total three-point percentage this season mostly because of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. It’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve made it this far. Robinson shot 46 percent on over 500 catch-and-shoot threes this season, the highest in league history with that many attempts.
However, shooting those types of numbers will be hard against a Celtics team that has caused a lot of trouble for three-point shooters this season. If the Heat can knock down these shots successfully, the Celtics will have to spread out their defense, leaving driving lanes for Butler and Dragić.
Offensive penetration from Butler, a five-time all-star, can be another huge source of offense for Miami. Butler demands lots of attention from opposing defenses and still gets to the hoop with ease. The Celtics commit a lot of fouls on defense and Butler draws more fouls than anybody else in the league. How often he can get to the free throw line is going to be another big factor in this series.
The Easter Conference Finals kicked off Tuesday night on ESPN. The Heat came away with a Game 1 victory in overtime, defeating the Celtics 117-114. Now leading the series 1-0, the Heat will take on the Celtics Thursday night for Game 2 at 7 p.m.