And then there were two. After taking out the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. This is the first time since 1969 that neither the No.1 and No.2 have reached the Conference Finals. Both teams have molded themselves in young teams full of playmakers elite on both ends of the floor.
Boston is playing in their third Conference Final in four seasons, while Miami is playing in their first Conference Finals since 2015.
Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview for Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics
Regular Season Series Recap
The Celtics led the regular-season series 2-1, beating the Heat back-to-back in their first two matchups. The first two games allowed Boston’s backcourt to shine, especially Jaylen Brown, who played up to his expectations after signing the $115 million max deal, scoring a combined 56 points in both matchups.
Miami flipped the switch in Aug. at the beginning of the restart, beating Boston 112-106 in their last meeting. Although Jimmy Butler was out with a sore foot, Bam Adebayo scored 21 points and 11 rebounds, and shooter Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson combined for 8-of-18 shooting from three (44 percent).
Miami Needs to Conquer Boston’s Small Ball Lineup in this Series
Before the restart, Miami struggled with either stopping or keeping up with Boston’s ability to play small. They would have no answers for the backcourt, which allowed Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown to go off. A part of the reason for their struggles was at the time their lack of multifaceted wings and stretching out the floor.
Once Miami acquired Jae Crowder and Andre Igoudala during the season hiatus, things started to click for the team. When you have two top-tier wings on your roster, you have guys who can score and shoot, as well as defend guards and other wings. Having Crowder and Iguodala opens up so much space on the floor. This allowed Adebayo to be the do-it-all-big that he is now, as well as open up space for shooters like Robinson to do their job. This worked in their favor in the Aug. matchup against Boston. Tatum, Brown, and Walker didn’t have any space to attack and score, Adebayo and the wings attacked viciously on the defensive end, and once the shooter got going, the Celtics didn’t know how to fight back.
REMINDER: @bam1of1 dominated Boston last night
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) August 5, 2020
Conquering small ball will help Miami be that tough team to win the series. However, there could be times where Boston knows how to play through Miami’s tough exterior. Miami will need to work hard in order to limit Boston’s small ball production.
Gordon Hayward’s Absence (Or Return) Could Be Key for the Celtics Chances?
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered an ankle sprain in Game 2 of the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers. He has not been active on the roster ever since, although he could make a return in the Conference Finals as soon as game 2. While Boston made it through the Raptors in 7 games to get to this point, Hayward being able to play would make it easier for the team to get through that series.
Hayward is another facilitator for Boston that makes them tougher for other teams to beat. Against Miami in the regular season, they didn’t have any answer for him, as he shot as high as 71% in the season series. Just like how Miami opens up space on the floor with wing players, Hayward on the floor opens up more space for the rest of the team to attack. Boston has proven that they can win a series without Hayward, but going through another series without the player will continue to make the journey to the Finals much more difficult to achieve.
Boston Has to Stay Strong in All Minutes of Games
The semifinals series against Toronto was tough for the Celtics. Game 6 in particular, Boston had to push through deficit after deficit; quarter after another quarter.
Going against Miami, they cannot afford to give up a run or quarter. Because once Miami goes off, it is hard to stop them. Early in this series, Boston has to dominate throughout the entire game to make the message clear that they’re here to stay. Once they allow themselves to get too comfortable (like they did against Toronto after Game 2), the other team can reap the benefits from that attitude.
NBA Playoffs Preview Final Prediction: Miami Heat in 6 Games
Both of these teams deserved to be in this position due to their superstars showing up, their abilities to play on both ends of the floor, as well as their ability to dominate by any means necessary. There’s no doubt that this Eastern Conference Finals will be tough and competitive.
But what gives the Miami Heat the edge in this series in the “dog” in them. Since Day 1, when they acquired Jimmy Butler, they brought in a player that plays no games and doesn’t accept anything less than greatness. When you bring in that kind of player to a team, it helps them develop tougher mindsets which results in tougher play. Yes, this necessarily didn’t work out in Philadelphia, or Minnesota, or Chicago. Still, this time is different because Miami knew how to progress over time. They learned to create spacing on the floor. They learned to have shooters that can shoot lights out.
Learning how to conquer small ball will work to Miami’s advantage. They have the ability the stop the best players on the floor, which allows them to take off, and will result in a ticket to the NBA Finals.
From Tomball to Miami.
3:30 AM hard work.
That Heat culture.
Jimmy BUCKETS. @JimmyButler and the @MiamiHEAT take on the Celtics for Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 tonight at 6:30 PM ET on ESPN! #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/2DLJx8ZNow
— NBA (@NBA) September 15, 2020
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