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Eastern Conference Finals

Jasen-Vinlove-USA-Today-Sports

2022 Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Miami Heat v. Boston Celtics

2022 Eastern Conference Finals
Jasen-Vinlove-USA-Today-Sports

2022 Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Miami Heat v. Boston Celtics

The 2022 Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics tips-off Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. It will be their second East Finals meeting in three seasons and their fifth playoff series ever. Miami’s taken three of the four previous playoff meetings against one another, the most recent occurring the 2019-20 bubble playoffs, downing the C’s in six games.

Boston came out on top in two of the three regular season meetings, though Miami took the most recent matchup on the road, 106-98. Jimmy Butler posted a team-high 24 points while guard Kyle Lowry finished with 23 points; former Celtic (legend) Max Strus, who had 14 points, also added a few very clutch defensive plays at the end of the game that helped sealed the victory.

Here’s the 2022 ECF series schedule:

GAMEDATEMATCHUPTIMETV
Game 1Tuesday, May 17Boston @ Miami8:30 p.m. ETESPN
Game 2Thursday, May 19Boston @ Miami8:30 p.m. ETESPN
Game 3Saturday, May 21Miami @ Boston8:30 p.m. ETABC
Game 4Monday, May 23Miami @ Boston8:30 p.m. ETABC
Game 5*Wednesday, May 25Boston @ Miami8:30 p.m. ETESPN
Game 6*Friday, May 27Miami @ Boston8:30 p.m. ETESPN
Game 7*Sunday, May 29Boston @ Miami8:30 p.m. ETESPN

Now, let’s get to know each team, examine series questions plus reveal my (no-so-final) series prediction!

What to know about the Miami Heat:

Notable starters:

  • G: Gabe Vincent (Kyle Lowry, when healthy)
  • G: Max Strus
  • F: Jimmy Butler
  • F: P.J. Tucker
  • C: Bam Adebayo

Other players in playoff rotation:

  • Tyler Herro (Sixth man of year)
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Dewayne Dedmon

The Heat concluded a six-game series with the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday. They are led by three (former) All-Stars — Butler, Adebayo and Lowry, who’s currently sidelined with a hamstring injury without any timetable for a return — as well as the 6MOY Tyler Herro. Miami possesses the top playoff defense amongst the remaining four teams with a 104.6 defensive rating on 57.0 percent true-shooting. After finishing top-10 in rebounding rate in the regular season, they’ve replicated their success on the glass this postseason. They boast the top rebounding rate (53.5 REB%) amongst the remaining teams — also bringing down a remarkable 31.6 percent of available offensive rebounds, over five percentage points greater than Milwaukee (who caused Boston problems on the glass), per NBA.com. As Pat Riley once said: “No rebounds, no rings.” Miami isn’t a big team, and neither is Boston. But gritty glue guys in Tucker, Dedmon (sometimes) and Adebayo give it a fighting chance on the glass, especially off long rebounds with the amount of 3s the team (and opponent) take. Speaking of 3-point shooting — Miami was also the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team in the regular season, but a couple sub-25.0 3-point shooting performances against Philly caused them to sink to 32.1 percent in the postseason. They will need that figure to improve this series.

What to know about the Boston Celtics:

Notable starters:

  • G: Marcus Smart
  • G: Jaylen Brown
  • F: Jayson Tatum
  • F: Grant Williams
  • C: Al Horford

Other players in playoff rotation:

  • Robert Williams III (if he’s active)
  • Derrick White
  • Payton Pritchard
  • Daniel Theis

The Celtics downed the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the semifinal round, capped off by two victories by a combined 41 points after trailing 3-2 in the series. The Celtics had a dominant 46-point effort by Tatum in on Friday the 13th followed by netting 22 3-pointers (on 55 attempts) Sunday, outscoring the Bucks by more than 50 points from distance. As soon as the calendar turned 2022, Boston has been the league’s best team. Including the playoffs, they’ve gone a league-best 42-15 over that span. They also sported an NBA-best plus-12.7 NET rating — nearly five points better than the next-best team (Suns – 8.1) and trail Miami (9.8) for the second-best NET Rating in the postseason (plus-7.4). Boston, the league’s top regular season, is second to Miami in playoff defense amongst the final-four, surrendering 105.2 points per 100 possessions. They also take over 40 percent of its shots from deep (at a 37 percent clip); Miami, focusing on walling off driving lanes, allows over 40 percent of its opponents’ shots to come from distance (at a 33 percent clip), per Cleaning The Glass. Shooting, and offense, will be important in this series (made of the 1990’s).

Questions?

1.) Can the Heat generate enough half-court offense?

Miami’s half-court offense has had its peaks and valleys throughout 2021-22, finishing No. 11 in the league in half-court points per play (0.98), a slightly above-average mark. Boston had the league’s best half-court defense, holding opponents to south of 0.91 points per half-court play. That good? I think it is. Aside from Game 1 against the Hawks and Games 2, 5 against the Sixers, the Heat failed to reach its aforementioned mark in such scenarios. Butler (see below) has been the Heat’s most potent shot creator; Kyle Lowry’s hurt without a set date for return; Tyler Herro struggled to find creases against Philly’s blitz; Victor Oladipo can generate rim pressure as good as anyone on this roster, but getting to the rim will be difficult against this stout defense. This is going to be a real test for Miami, who have closed multiple games with its defense. The inverse might need to occur in order to win this series.

2.) How will the two frontcourts fare?

After missing the last four games against Milwaukee due to knee soreness, athletic big-man Robert Williams III returns for Boston. Williams, along with Horford — who’s been one of Boston’s most important two-way players these playoffs — creates a formidable frontcourt worthy of creating problems for Miami. On the other side, there’s Adebayo — arguably the best defender in the league (yeah, Boston, I said it!) — with 37-year-old Tucker. Should he be healthy, Williams will likely be stationed on Tucker as the weakside helper with Horford on Adebayo. Tucker offers more offensively than just shoot corner 3s — like he did in Houston or Milwaukee — as an on- and off-ball screener, hand-off initiator plus turning into one of Miami’s most ferocious offensive rebounders. If Williams can stay healthy, this will be a fun position battle to monitor throughout the series, as it could go a long way into deciding who comes out on top.

3.) Tatum v. Butler — who has a better series?

If you follow basketball, which I’m assuming most of you who are reading this do, it’s no secret that Tatum and Butler have been two of the league’s top players these playoffs. For perspective, Tatum’s averaging 28.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1,0 blocks on 43.8 percent shooting from the floor, 38.6 shooting from deep and 81.5 percent from the free-throw line; Butler’s posted 28.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game on 52.5 percent shooting, including 36.4 percent shooting from distance (!!!) and 80.8 percent from the charity stripe. Both of the aforementioned talents are two of the most prominent two-way players in the sport and could be matched up against one another a fair amount (though I expect Tucker to at least start on Tatum) this series. The team whose player plays the best will likely punches a ticket to the NBA Finals….at least one would assume so.

Prediction: Heat in 7.

As the resident Heat fan, this is my *unbiased* prediction. I’ve probably flip-flopped 10 times, and I will 20 times more before the series begins. Either of these teams losing four times in a seven-game series seems impossible, but one will have to go. Securing home-court plus the extra rest heading into Tuesday gives Miami the slimmest of edges, which helps now and as the series goes on. Both teams are very deep and both two top-15 players in Butler and Tatum; you gotta split hairs somewhere. This will be a war. This will be a rock fight. This feels like another “NBA Finals before the actual NBA Finals” matchup. May the best team win — and I’m sticking with “dem goons from Dade County.”

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