The Boston Celtics survived a seven-game bloodbath and knocked off the Toronto Raptors in round two to advance to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years. Just after going through hell and back against the defending NBA champions, Boston will go for second servings as they face the scorching Miami Heat.
Boston needed to extract every ounce of their energy just to beat the Raptors. They will likely need to do the same against the South Beach squad. Looking at the matchup, this will certainly be another all-out war, –with both teams looking to book their ticket to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics and Heat are very similar in a lot of ways. Both are abundant with like-sized, skillful wings that can play multiple positions. Boston has Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and, eventually, Gordon Hayward. Meanwhile, Miami boasts gritty veterans such as Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder.
In addition, the two teams have the best tacticians in Brad Stevens and Erik Spoelstra calling the shots on the sidelines. Both coaches are not afraid to mix it up and are capable of making adjustments on the fly. This should be another interesting chess match between two high-IQ coaches.
Despite the similarities, Boston still has advantages in some aspects. Here are four reasons the Celtics will beat the Heat and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
1. Boston has the surprising playoff experience
The Celtics could be the youngest team among the remaining squads in the bubble. But surprisingly, they arguably hold the edge over Miami in terms of postseason experience. Even though their two stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 22 and 23, respectively, the young studs have already been immersed in the intense playoff atmosphere.
Brown has made the Eastern Conference Finals twice before in 2017 and 2018, while Tatum made it as a rookie in 2018. And it’s not like they didn’t play sizable roles for the Celtics in their first couple of years in the league. Both youngsters were thrown into the fire early in their careers. Thus, they have been acclimated to the pressure of the postseason.
Meanwhile, though Miami has some tested veterans in Butler, Iguodala and Crowder, they still have youngsters in Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn who are getting their first real taste of playoff basketball. Those three have been key pieces for the Heat so far in their impressive playoff run. However, inexperience could catch up with the young guys at some point.
2. Toronto gave them the test they needed
The Heat are entering the Eastern Conference Finals with much fresher legs after they shockingly took care of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games. On the other hand, the Celtics will enter the ECF with battered bodies and bruises after scrapping and clawing with the Raptors in the second round.
However, there’s still an advantage to playing in an all-out war as early as the conference semis like the Celtics did. With that series, the Raptors gave Boston the kind of battle they needed to go up against a tougher opponent deep into the playoffs.
The Celtics pretty much experienced everything they could ask for. It had wire-to-wire blowouts, close wins, dramatic finishes, and even a season-saving buzzer beater. You name it, that series had it.
It featured two coaches playing a chess match on the court, with players from both sides also adjusting and making decisions on the fly. Both teams played hard and things even got chippy at some points. With that, Boston got the preparation to face an equally tough or tougher squad like Miami.
Meanwhile, the Heat didn’t get to experience that in their first two series of the playoffs. They easily took care of the Indiana Pacers in the opening round. Moreover, while they did face the Bucks in round two, Milwaukee’s lack of adjustment and one-way playing style made it relatively easier for the South Beach club to counter their attack.
They’re not getting that with Boston.
3. Kemba Walker should have his way against Miami’s guards
Kemba Walker initially had his way in their previous series against the Raptors until the defending champs made it a point to shut him down. Nick Nurse incorporated a box-and-one defense that eventually slowed down the four-time All-Star. In addition, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, both gritty defenders, made life difficult for Walker as the series got deeper.
Miami, on the one hand, doesn’t have a player similar to the two Raptors guards who can hold their own one-on-one against Walker. Goran Dragic is 34 years old and hasn’t carried a reputation as a good defender. Meanwhile, Kendrick Nunn is a rookie new to the spotlight of the playoffs.
With that said, Cardiac Kemba should be able to take advantage of his matchup at the point guard spot.
If Miami decides to put a larger wing defender on Walker, the 6-foot guard should be able to use his speed advantage to penetrate, open up the floor and create a variety of scoring opportunities — either for himself or for his teammates.
4. Boston has the two best offensive players in this series
Looking at the rosters of both squads, you would probably identify Tatum and Walker as the two best offensive talents in this series.
In just his third NBA season, Tatum has become one of the most explosive scorers in the league who can put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways. The same can be said about Walker, especially with his ability to slice the defense with his great penetration. Both players are also adept in taking advantage of their match-ups.
Likewise, the two are capable of making plays for others. Aside from being an elite scorer, Walker is also a willing distributor. Tatum, meanwhile, showed tremendous strides in terms of his playmaking, especially in the Toronto series.
With the Raptors sending multiple double-teams toward the 22-year-old, Tatum averaged 5.3 assists in the seven-game showdown, which included a total of 16 assists in the final two games of the matchup.
Miami and Boston both pride themselves in their defense. It is almost inevitable that they will make life tough for each other on the offensive side of the ball. The two squads will certainly make their adjustment, with Stevens and Spoelstra trying to outwit each other. However, when the game comes to a down-the-wire finish and both teams are aching for a basket, Tatum and Walker’s offensive talents should give Boston a high chance of generating much-needed points.