The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics will face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday evening. After cruising its way through the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, Miami looks to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014.
On the other side, the Boston Celtics look to finally get over the hump and make the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. This comes after Boston defeated the Toronto Raptors in a hard-fought seven games during the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Here are five things to keep an eye on for the series.
How does Boston exploit Miami’s defense?
Boston has the ability to exploit Miami’s defense in many ways. It’s going to start with one player. Kemba Walker. If Miami decides to put Jimmy Butler on Jayson Tatum, that leaves a weaker defender on Walker throughout the series. The one struggle for Miami has been its perimeter defense.
Goran Dragic is not a bad defender, but he is most likely not capable of defending Walker for a whole four quarters. Boston needs to exploit this and get its guards involved. Marcus Smart also needs to be aggressive attacking the rim while making his shots. The guard play for the Celtics will open up everything else for them.
If the Celtics’ guards show up big time, Miami will have to pay closer attention to them. This would allow other players such as Jaylen Brown to get going. The fire power of Boston might be too much for Miami if the team is playing at its best. If Walker and Smart play like they are capable of, Boston will be very hard to beat.
How should Miami match up against Boston’s offense?
Miami has its hands full when it comes to defending the Boston trio of Walker, Tatum and Brown. It can be assumed that Butler will guard Tatum, while Jae Crowder takes on Brown. That leaves Walker, Smart, and Daniel Theis for the other three Miami players.
Dragic should have his hands full with Walker, while Bam Adebayo has the advantage over Theis. This leaves Duncan Robinson, or maybe even Tyler Herro on Smart. The Celtics struggled against Toronto’s zone defense in the previous series. They used a box-and-one on Walker which effectively took him out of the game.
The concern for Miami will be whether Boston can make its shots. If Walker and Tatum are making shots, then the Heat will have to focus on man-to-man defense. If the Celtics are struggling against their zone defense, then the Heat have them right in their wheelhouse.
Does Gordon Hayward make an impact?
One of the bigger things for the Boston Celtics is the status of Gordon Hayward. The 30-year old forward sprained his ankle early in the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers and has not returned since. In his lone game of the playoffs, Hayward had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists while shooting 39% from the floor.
A possible return for Hayward would add another lethal player to Boston’s lineup. He would also represent a matchup problem for Miami. The forward’s return would prevent the Heat from hiding Robinson or Herro on defense when he’s in the game. Hayward has been ruled out for Game 1 but could return later in the series.
Can Bam Adebayo take over the series?
If the Miami Heat advance to their first NBA Finals since 2014, it will be because of Bam Adebayo. The one weakness that the Celtics have is their frontcourt players. While Daniel Theis has been good for them, Adebayo is an All-Star and one of the best young players in the league.
Adebayo is averaging 16.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 54% from the field. No one on the Boston Celtics should be able to contain him. He needs to be aggressive in every game for Miami to win. The 23-year old center out of Kentucky needs to step up his game another level and show his worth.
If Adebayo can garner the attention of Boston players, it should allow their shooters to get open looks. Robinson and Herro can shoot lights out once they get going. How Miami’s offense matches up to Boston’s defense will depend on how Adebayo plays.
Schedule and matchup information
Eastern Conference Finals’ game-times and networks:
Game 1 – Tuesday, September 15th, 6:30 p.m (ESPN)
Game 2 – Thursday, September 17th, 7:00 p.m (ESPN)
Game 3 – Saturday, September 19th, 8:30 p.m (ESPN)
Game 4-7: (TBD)
- The Boston Celtics won the season series 2-1.
- Both of Boston’s wins came before the trade deadline.
- Miami won the third matchup in the Bubble. Jimmy Butler did not play.
Who advances to the NBA Finals?
This is a very intriguing matchup in many different areas. Boston has the fire power on both offense and defense to match up against Miami’s tenacity. While the Heat will drain their opponent out if they are playing top-tier defense throughout the game.
Both Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler have never been in this position before. Walker has spent the majority of his career with Charlotte while Butler hasn’t advanced past the second round until this season. Whoever plays better between the two could determine the series.
However, it is Adebayo’s time. He holds the cards for the Miami Heat during this series. If he can play at this best and expose the Celtics interior defense, they will serve no match for the Heat’s offense. This series will go the distance and be everything it is being hyped up to be. Miami’s toughness will outmatch what we see from Boston, which will ultimately advance it past the Eastern Conference Finals.