The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will tip-off their Eastern Conference Finals showdown Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN, the first of what could be an electrifying seven-game series between the two semi-rivals.
This will be the fifth ever time the two teams have played each other in the playoffs, a series that dates back to the 2009-10 season. Miami has bested Boston in three of the previous four playoff meetings, the most recent coming in the 2019-20 bubble playoffs in six games.
Below, we conducted a roundtable to further examine the series, answering questions about our keys to victory, potential X-Factors, predictions and more!
1. How are you feeling about the Heat through two rounds?
Matt Hanifan: Good. I hope Lowry’s healthy soon, but Miami’s halfway there! The extra couple days of rest should benefit them as well. And I’m looking forward to seeing how this team responds to, by far, its biggest challenge it’s encountered thus far.
Diego: Aside from the injury to Kyle Lowry, I feel good about the Heat through the first two rounds. Jimmy Butler has had some fantastic games, Miami has put in some great defensive efforts on Trae Young and Joel Embiid and the Heat are back in the Eastern Conference Finals. We can nitpick the issues here and there – Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro haven’t had great offensive performances, for instance. But the Heat are one of four teams standing.
Naveen: Great. Ideally, they’d be humming with Kyle Lowry healthy and playing, but his hamstring considered, they’ve put themselves in the final four to win the NBA title. They’re elite on both ends, they have a superstar in Jimmy, and an alpha supporting cast who play their roles well. They aren’t afraid of anyone, they’re tough, and their coaching staff is arguably the best in the NBA. What a time to be a Heat fan.
2. Biggest concern regarding the Celtics?
Matt H.: Their defense; Boston was the best defensive team in the league in the regular season and their connected, physical play has translated seamlessly. They have little-to-no weak links and can muck things up for even the best half-court offenses; the Heat, at times, struggled in the half-court. They can’t afford any lackadaisical, stagnant offense against this stout Celtics defense. They just can’t.
Diego: It’s the defense. When these two teams met in the Bubble two years ago, the Heat hunted Kemba Walker, getting Jimmy Butler that mis-match. There isn’t an option for that in this Celtics starting lineup. Yes, the Heat can exploit Payton Pritchard when he’s on the floor, but the Heat will have to manufacture offense against good defense in crunch time.
Naveen: They can match Miami’s intensity on both ends of the floor, they have brilliant iso players who can take advantage of mismatches, and they’ll come in hungry for payback for the 2020 ECF. Maybe not all players on the Celtics now were part of the squad the Heat eliminated, but the key guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart were. Competitors don’t forget tough defeats. Boston will have an extra gear to them.
3. Who will be the Heat’s X-Factor against Boston?
Matt H.: I think it’s Bam Adebayo or Tyler Herro, with Oladipo (and his rim pressure) as a close third option. Horford is capable of defending Bam, and we’ve seen the damage he’s done against Theis. I don’t think Robert Williams will be on Bam as much, but I’m interested to see how Bam approaches this series. With Herro, we all remembered Game 4 in 2019-20 — but this is a different Boston team with more bodies to throw at Herro. He will need to be one of the Heat’s top halfcourt producers in order to win this series.
Diego: Tyler Herro. The Sixth Man of the Year hasn’t played well in the postseason thus far. He struggled at times against the Philadelphia trapping defense. In this series, it can’t all be on Butler – as was the case in Games 3 and 4 against the Sixers. Herro’s ability to score in the mid-range and from 3-point range will determine how much of a chance the Heat have to win this series.
Naveen: Max Strus. He was fantastic in the final two games of the Philly series, but not just because of his scoring. Jimmy’s reaction after the closer said it all: Strus’ rebounding is monumental for Miami. He also has an underrated ability to push and score in transition. That added bonus of easy points was something Miami didn’t get a lot of from Duncan Robinson. If Strus continues to play well, which they need with Lowry out, Miami will be in great position to succeed.
4. The Heat will lose the series if…
Matt H.: If Tatum and Brown dominate in addition to Miami’s half-court offense faltering.
Diego: The Heat’s 3-point shooting continues to be sub-par.
Naveen: Their offense is stalled and the turnovers pile up.
5. Miami wins the series if…
Matt H.: Butler thrives and Miami makes a ton of shots, unlike the Bucks in their final two games.
Diego: Bam Adebayo dominates the Celtics frontline, as he did two years ago.
Naveen: They play their style - slow and methodical, but in a physical and aggressive manner - and if they take care of business at home.
6. What’s your series prediction?
Matt H.: Heat in 7, though I’ve flipped back and forth several different times. Hope y’all love 1990’s basketball!!
Diego: Heat in 7
Naveen: Heat in 6