For the third time in four seasons, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics meet up in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now that we’re mere hours from tip-off, let’s dive into my three biggest questions entering the series.
1.) Can Miami manufacture enough offense?
In Round 1, the Miami Heat lit the nylon on fire. They conjured together 119 points per 100 possessions, shot 45.0 percent from 3-point range with a 60.5 effective field goal percentage and a 62.7 true-shooting percentage. For perspective, each of those four aforementioned figures would rank atop the NBA over an 82-game sample. It’s a small sample fever, sure.
Miami's offensive numbers came crashing down to earth in the second round, posting a 112.6 ORTG, 30.6 3-point percentage, 49.3 eFG% and a 54.2 TS%. In an 82-game sample, its ORTG would place in the bottom-third while the latter three figures would rank … well, last.
Boston holsters arguably the best offense in the NBA with multiple scoring threats, including arguably the NBA’s best duo in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
The Celtics have been a top-2 offense with the league’s most potent 3-point attack all year; they will space the floor, move the rock from side-to-side and hoist any open shot/3-pointer without batting an eye. If Miami shot like they did against New York, they don’t stand a chance, even if they win the possession battle. They’ll need to find a happy medium (relative to the MIL series), at minimum, to keep pace.
2.) How does Jimmy Butler’s health affect his play?
Jimmy Butler was the best player in the opening-round series against Milwaukee, taking turns torching Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. He was superhuman and quite literally unstoppable … until he injured his ankle in Game 1 against New York. Butler missed Game 2 and returned for Game 3, but clearly did not look like himself the rest of the series.
Maybe Butler knew he didn’t have to completely take over against New York? Maybe New York defended him better — being more willing to send two, three and sometimes even four defenders within his crosshairs? Or, maybe his ankle really was bothering him, limiting his mobility and verticality from game-to-game? Perhaps all of these can and might be true, in this instance.
In the final four games against New York, Butler averaged 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks on 54.2 percent true-shooting. While he wasn’t as efficient, those are still very good numbers, albeit a far cry from his 36-7-5-2 steal stat line on 66.2 percent true-shooting in his six games prior.
If Butler can rekindle his magic from Round 1 — or at least 80-90 percent of it — Miami’s chances of winning this series rise precipitously, even though we know that Miami always has a chance to win with (playoff) Jimmy Butler on its side.
3.) Can the Heat defense force enough turnovers to keep pace?
Boston was in the top half in turnover rate (13.9 TOV%) last regular season and improved its mark (13.3 TOV%; T-6) this season, in part because of the acquisition of sixth man of the year Malcolm Brogdon. In the playoffs, the Cs have fumbled the rock only 12.3 percent of the time, second to only Denver (11.7 TOV%).
Miami’s defense is predicated on forcing turnovers, however, and they have against Boston this season. The Celtics turned the basketball over against Miami more than it did against any team in basketball … by far. They sported a ghastly 18.8 TOV% in their four regular season meetings. The next highest? A 16.1 TOV% against the Toronto Raptors, another squad whose defensive backbone relies on forcing turnovers.
Miami sported the third-best opponents’ TOV% in the regular season (16.1%) and are T-2 these playoffs (14.6 TOV%); it also leads all playoff teams in deflections (0.36) and loose balls recovered per minute (0.15). If the Heat digs their foot into the mud and wins the possession battle to possibly fashion better offense, that can swing a game and, ultimately, a series if done consistently.
But against a Boston team that takes care of the rock, it’ll be a tough task regardless.
We will be in it to win it.go heaters.Muck up the beamers.