The Miami Heat are back in the conference finals, and they’re facing their old nemesis, the Boston Celtics. Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog was kind enough to answer some of my questions to help you get ready.
You can see my answers to Jeff’s questions here:
DQ: Jayson Tatum has emerged as an All-Star this season. How would you assess his play in the playoffs, and what will the Celtics need from him in the Eastern Conference Finals?
JC: Jayson Tatum is a star, full stop. Not to get super homer fanatical about it, but the guy has all the tools we’ve been looking for since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett walked out that door. Tatum came into the league with a scoring touch but there were questions about his shot selection, his efficiency, and his defense. He’s answered all those questions and then some.
He’s become a deadly three point shooter with a long-legged step back shot. He drives to the hoop aggressively (and now finishes through contact). And if you take all that away, he can hit a midrange jumper, throw up a developing runner, or grift his way to the line. Throw double teams at him, and he’s proven that he can find the open man with the right pass.
Oh yeah, and he uses his length and court awareness to be an excellent defender to boot. He’s the leader and focal point for our team and he’s going to contribute in a lot of ways in this series.
DQ: What are you expecting from Gordon Hayward in this series?
JC: Gordon is a very interesting X-factor in this series. Is he fully healed from his ankle sprain? How quickly can he get back into game shape? Will Stevens inject him right back into the starting lineup? Or will he use him off the bench to both ease him into the action and to create matchup advantages?
When healthy and clicking, Hayward is a very dangerous weapon because he can create for himself and others. He’s a good zone buster because he excels at driving into the teeth of the defense and making quick, smart decisions with the ball. When he’s not on his game, he struggles with finishing, which makes him less of a threat passing, and he becomes a non-factor on the court. I think I’d like to see him run some more with the 2nd unit to give him some looks and to keep the ball moving to the right spots when the bench guys are out there.
DQ: The Heat made the trade deadline deal for Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder — with an eye on defending Giannis Antetokounmpo — but they’ve struggled defending point guards like Kemba Walker all season. What can Walker do in this series?
JC: Walker struggled near the end of the Raptors series in part because Toronto was scheming to take everything he likes doing away. They were even throwing box-and-ones and triangle-two’s at him and for the most part it worked. I don’t feel like the Heat have the defenders to do that so we should see Kemba get more into a groove. Expect a lot of pull-up jumpers from the top of the key. He should also be able to find lanes for dump-off assists (or alley-oops if Robert Williams is roaming around). I’m hoping for a big series from Kemba.
DQ: What needs to happen for the Celtics to lose this series?
JC: If the Celtics lose it is because the Heat defense played at the top of their game, Bam proved to be too much of a matchup nightmare, and the Heat just rain three pointers down like a tropical storm. The Celtics bench is very hit or miss and can depend greatly on matchups. Enes Kanter was surprisingly effective against Embiid but unplayable against the Raptors. I honestly don’t know what to expect from the Williams “brothers” and for completely different reasons. Meanwhile the Heat seem to have a deep bench and a lot of “that guy!” type players that tend to kill the Celtics for some reason.
DQ: What’s your prediction for this series?
JC: My prediction is Celtics in 6. I have a whole lot of respect for Coach Spo and the way the Heat play. I love Bam and respect Jimmy’s game (he makes me chuckle). I just feel like our starting 5 is more talented overall (in particular with a healthy Gordon) and that should be the difference. Oh yeah, and we have a Hulk (Marcus Smart).