The Celtics and Heat are scheduled to start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night (official time TBA), which will allow the Celtics to grab three days of much-needed rest after a grueling seven-game series. Miami has been resting up for nearly a week in preparation for the showdown that pits two of the most innovative coaches in the league against each other in Brad Stevens vs. Erik Spoelstra. We will have a comprehensive scouting report coming on Monday here at BSJ but there’s a lot of ground to cover in the meantime. Let’s begin with eight thoughts on the series.
1. Throw the regular-season matchups mostly out the window when evaluating this series: The Celtics technically hold a 2-1 edge in the three matchups but those two wins for Boston came before the trade deadline. Since then, Miami has transformed their team on a number of fronts including benching starting center Meyers Leonard (he’s out of the rotation) and adding Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala in February. The Celtics and Heat tilt in the Orlando bubble carries a little more weight (the Heat won without Jimmy Butler) but that also came with Kemba Walker dealing with a minutes limit.
The Heat have been an offensively dynamic team all year long but they’ve reached a new level in the postseason with a 33-year-old Goran Dragic turning back the clock with his offensive production (21.1 ppg), Bam Adebayo dominating opposing big men, Jimmy Butler playing efficiently and 3-point shots falling from all over the court from the Heat supporting cast.
The Celtics have the horses to counteract a lot of these matchups and this will be an easier series for them to score than the Toronto matchup. However, the Celtics are going to be stretched very thin at times on the defensive end. There is going to be a limited margin for error in this matchup against what has been the NBA’s third-best offense this postseason.
2. Expect plenty of zone from Miami, but the Celtics should be ready for it: Brad Stevens has probably seen more zone mixed in during regular season matchups against Miami than any other team in his NBA career over the past decade. The formula here for Miami is simple: They have a few defenders that Boston could pick on (Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson) in man-to-man defense and some very athletic defenders that can cover a lot of ground (Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler). Zone is a smart way to cover up some of those problems and also take a team like the Celtics with a lot of firepower out of rhythm.
The good news for Boston? They probably saw more gimmick defenses and zones in seven games against Toronto than they had all season long. Even though Kemba Walker was kept out of rhythm due to the box-and-1 action at times, the Celtics did a nice job of creating secondary offense against the creative looks as a whole against a very disciplined defensive team.
“I've coached in a lot of playoff games now, a lot of playoff series and a lot of NCAA tournament games,” Stevens explained. “I’d say we saw more defenses and more stuff and more ... right when something worked, the next play it didn't work anymore. That's a credit to them. They keep you on your toes the whole time, he's a heck of a coach, they've got really smart players. I think Lowry, obviously, he's up there with the best I've ever coached against as far as thinking the game and putting people in spots and especially on the defensive end. He doesn't get enough credit for it. We should definitely be hardened. We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to go back to. We have to get ready for a different, more unique team now in Miami.”
The Heat doesn’t have the defenders the Raptors do. Adebayo and Butler are great but everyone else has their flaws or are past their prime (Andre Iguodala). The Heat have been resting and watching the Celtics-Raptors series, with Erik Spoelstra plotting out ways to slow down the Celtics offense with the same kind of success Toronto has. However, it’s going to be tough to surprise the Celtics with anything in this series based on what they’ve been through.
3. Miami has 3-point shooting everywhere: The Raptors were supposed to be in this category but Pascal Siakam had the worst high volume 3-point shooting series ever and Marc Gasol was afraid to shoot for most of the seven games, which helped make life a little bit easier on Boston’s defense. They will get no breaks in the Eastern Conference Finals against a loaded Miami team. Adebayo is the only player in the rotation that doesn’t take 3s but he is fully capable of knocking down a mid-range jumper. Elsewhere? Confident shooters are everywhere. Six different Heat players in their rotation shot 35 percent or better from 3-point range this season and the others are guys you can’t ignore out on the perimeter either (Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler).
The high volume 3-point guys that the Celtics are going to need to locate and avoid separation from at all times are Dragic, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Jae Crowder. All four have averaged over six attempters per game during the postseason while shooting 38 percent from 3 or better. Some of these guys (Crowder) are on a hot streak but they have been great at finding open looks within Miami’s dynamic offense. Containing Butler and staying home on shooters is tough to pull off any team and will be Brad Stevens’ biggest challenge this round.
4. The defensive matchup choices are going to be intriguing: Among the starting five for Boston, the only clear cut