5 Thing To Watch: Heat Vs. Celtics ECF
For the third time in four years, the Heat and Celtics will play in the conference finals. Since 2010, either the Celtics or Heat have been in the conference finals ten times. This isn’t a typical playoff matchup as much as it is a heavyweight slugfest of the two teams that won the Eastern Conference. Last season, the number one seed Heat lost to the Celtics in seven games, where we saw Jimmy Butler miss a late pull-up three that would have put Miami in the lead.
So let’s look at five things to watch as the series sets to begin Wednesday night.
5) Talent Disparity
On paper, this matchup is absolutely in favor of Boston. Their roster is deeper, and when they’re clicking, their team defense is downright terrifying, with switchable pieces all over. Look for the Celtics to hunt matchups against Kevin Love, Max Strus, and Duncan Robinson, hoping to get Miami in foul trouble and render them unplayable. Jimmy Butler’s killer instinct is on par with Jordan and Kobe Bryant; look for him to keep Miami in it. But once again, Boston is too much.
4) Kyle Lowry & Bam Adebayo
Yes, we know, he’s washed, too old, too small. But you know, at least once in this series, Kyle Lowry will score 30-plus points and make winning plays that help Miami take (at least) a game. Usurped into the starting lineup by, you guessed it, undrafted free agent Gabe Vincent, Lowry has been a valuable rotation piece for Spoelstra and the Heat.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Miamis, only All-Star Bam Adebayo. While he struggled against Boston in last year’s playoff matchup, Bam will have to look the part of an All-Star for Miami to survive.
No disrespect to Joe Mazzulla, but this coaching matchup heavily favors Miami. Mazzulla, 34 years old, is in his first NBA head coaching position, having had the interim tag taken off around this year’s All-Star break. Erik Spoelstra has two championship rings, and aside from the Spurs’, Greg Popovich is the longest-tenured coach in the league. There’s no question this will be a factor in this series.
46% of the Heats regular season minutes came from undrafted players, the fourth-highest percentage since the 1970s. They’ve lost scoring threat Tyler Herro and bench wing Victor Oladipo to injury and are still winning games.
2) Jayson Tatum
In the last five quarters, Tatum has scored 67 points, including an NBA record 51 points in game seven versus Philadelphia on Sunday (the most in a game 7 in NBA history). Tatum is now the only remaining first-team All-NBA player remaining in the playoff field. We’ve seen him impact the game with rebounding, playmaking, and with his length on defense.
And we just keep hoping to see him take leaps mentally to be consistent enough because once that clicks, he will be an all-time great. This series could potentially be a passing of the torch from Butler to Tatum, who has a much deeper and more talented supporting cast.
1. Jimmy Butler
If there ever was a question about Butler’s status as a superstar (there shouldn’t have been), consider that question emphatically answered with his play in this years playoffs. Through ten games, Butler is averaging 31.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists — all higher averages than his regular season output.
Not to mention the fact this iteration of the Heat features five undrafted players in their rotation, including two starters, and that’s not including a way-past-his-prime Kevin Love who was acquired via the buyout market midseason.
It’s worth noting that Butler has had issues with his right leg this season. He missed 18 regular season games due to his knee, the same knee where he tore his meniscus in 2018. Butler missed game two of the series against the Knicks with a swollen right ankle.
That being said, we expect to see superstar Butler on full display. He’ll be age 34 next season and on the verge of being too old to drive the bus. There’s no guarantee he can get back to the conference finals.
Game 1: Heat at Celtics, Wednesday, May 17, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 2: Heat at Celtics, Friday, May 19, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3: Celtics at Heat, Sunday, May 21, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 4: Celtics at Heat, Tuesday, May 23, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 5: Heat at Celtics, Thursday, May 25, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT (if necessary)
Game 6: Celtics at Heat, Saturday, May 27, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT (if necessary)
Game 7: Heat at Celtics, Monday, May 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT (if necessary)