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Heat-Celtics preview: Four matchups to watch out for

What to keep an eye on as the highly-anticipated series progresses.

Miami Heat Vs. Boston Celtics at TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Miami Heat will take on the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons, beginning Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

The two foes have many intriguing individual matchups. Like I have for the other Heat playoff series, I have identified a few that I’m particularly looking out for the most. Here, I identified four.

Comment below which matchups you’re looking out for — if any! Without further ado, let’s jump into it!


Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

P.J. Tucker v. Jayson Tatum:

Tatum held his ground against Wesley Matthews and Jrue Holiday, one of the best guard defenders in the league, last round after going up against the smaller Bruce Brown, Seth Curry and Goran Dragic (as well as mobile center Nic Claxton and Kevin Durant) in round one. It won’t get easier with Tucker, who matched up with Tatum for 29.2 partial possessions in two meetings, holding Tatum to 2-for-6 shooting, per’s matchup data, which can get fluky at times. Tucker won’t back down from Tatum, just like he didn’t from Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Trae Young, James Harden and Joel Embiid in previous playoff meetings. If anyone’s going to make life for Tatum difficult on the perimeter, it’s Tucker. He relishes these matchups, as he should!

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Butler v. Jaylen Brown:

I anticipate Tucker at least beginning the series on Tatum, just like he did during the regular season meetings, so I’m assuming Butler begins on Brown. The 32-year-old was matched up against Brown the 12th-most times (59.1 partial possessions) amongst any Brown defender. He held the Celtic guard to 3-of-11 shooting — all three makes coming from 3-point range — with two turnovers and three assists. Miami will have to hold down at least one of the J’s to have a good shot at winning this series.This allows Butler to also roam as a free safety off the ball — where he thrives — with Tatum and Marcus Smart as their primary initiators.


Robert Williams v. P.J. Tucker:

Should Williams be healthy and see the floor for a considerable amount of time, this is a very intriguing schematic matchup. Throughout the season, Boston would deploy Williams as their weakside defender in the corner. There were plenty of instances where the connected Celtics defense would pre-switch, soft switch and then ultimately scram-switch ball-screens intended to involve Williams to keep him in that corner. With Tucker being as prolific as a corner 3-point shooter as he is, it will be a tougher task for Williams to be over-help without any consequences. Keep an eye on how many open triples Tucker takes — and makes — as the nominal corner spacer.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Jayson Tatum v. Jimmy Butler:

One of the league’s best young defenders versus one of the league’s top best playoff performers (historically) — who wouldn’t want to see this? Well, Heat fans might not. Tatum has developed into a forceful two-way presence and did an excellent job against Kevin Durant in the opening round. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer stationed Giannis Antetokounmpo on Butler while blanketing Miami’s patented DHO actions last postseason — effectively cutting off the head of the snake — stymying the Heat offense. I don’t anticipate that happening again, but if anyone can, it’s Boston. And it starts with putting Tatum on Butler — who will likely try to find Jaylen Brown or the smaller Payton Pritchard/Derrick White in switches anyways. There’s little — if any — weak links in this Celtics defense, making life even harder for Butler. Read more about said challenges (and current playoff successes) here!