The Celtics and Heat are set to face off in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 2012 postseason. The Celtics went 2-1 against the Heat during the regular season, but those matchups mean little now since just one came after the trade deadline and neither came with either team at close to full strength. Let's take a closer look at the new and improved Heat this postseason and the areas the Celtics will be honing in on at the playoff series kicks off on Tuesday night.
- Offensive rating: 111.9 (seventh) | Playoffs: 112.9 (fifth)
- Defensive rating: 109.3 (12th) | Playoffs: 105.4 (fourth)
- Pace: 27th
Strengths for Heat Offense
There isn’t a better 3-point shooting team remaining in the NBA Playoffs. Miami was second in the NBA during the regular season, shooting 37.9 percent from beyond the arc while attempting 35.4 shots from deep per game (9th in NBA). They were masterfully designed to be an offense full of gravity threats combined with effective shot creators to help open the floor for their marksmen. Out of the nine players that have consistently been in the team’s rotation this postseason, seven are shooting above 36 percent or better from 3-point range. A closer look at the numbers shows varying levels of dominance for those guys on the perimeter, so let’s break them down by tier.
High-volume marksman (never leave them tier)
Duncan Robinson: 39.3 percent/6.8 attempts per game (44.6 percent in regular season)
Goran Dragic: 38.1 percent/7 attempts per game (36.7 percent in regular season)
Tyler Herro: 40 percent/6.1 attempts per game (38.9 percent in regular season)
Jae Crowder: 40 percent/8.3 attempts per game (44.5 percent in 20 regular season games for Heat)
Analysis: Robinson might be the best catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter in the NBA this season, knocking down 46 percent of those attempts. Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker is going to have to stay attached to him as well as they can all postseason. Dragic has been lethal as a point guard this season in an impressive resurgence (Miami almost dumped him in the offseason) and his driving ability makes him a problem since it’s tough to stay too tight on him since he’s got a serious speed edge. Herro is the best sharpshooting rookie in the NBA that nearly fell to the Celtics (No. 13 overall) before turning into a big boost for Miami’s firepower. It feels weird putting Jae Crowder on this list, but he’s earned it at this point by shooting over 40 percent for 30 straight games. He’s getting great looks in Miami because most defenses assume that’s the guy you want to help off of given his track record. We have enough of a track record now to assume that’s a mistake, at least until the hot streak comes to an end.
Don’t leave them wide-open tier
Jimmy Butler: 50 percent/2 attempts per game (24.4 percent in regular season)
Kelly Olynyk: 36.4 percent/2.7 attempts per game (40.6 percent in regular season)
Kedrick Nunn: 13.3 percent/2.5 attempts per game
(35 percent in regular season)
Analysis: Butler is the main engine of the Heat’s offense and his regular season track record says maybe to give him some space and maybe shoot the 3. However, his career numbers (36 percent from 3 in postseason) indicate this is a bad idea. We’ve seen in Boston that Olynyk can get hot in postseason games, so locating him will be a priority for bigs like Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and Rob Williams all series long and is probably a big reason we won’t see much of Enes Kanter again. Nunn probably won’t play much in this series, but his poor shooting in the first two rounds is an outlier.
Help off them at 3-point line
Andre Iguodala: 29.4 percent/1.9 attempts per game (29.8 percent in regular season)
Derrick Jones Jr.: 50 percent/0.9 attempts per game (28 percent in regular season)
Bam Adebayo: 0 attempts in postseason
Analysis: Iguodala is one of the few guys who remains an inconsistent shooter on this roster. He’s a non-factor offensively at this point of his career (3.1 shot attempts per game) so look for the Celtics to configure their defense to that whenever he’s in the game. Jones Jr. is an athletic energy forward who has never been a good 3-point shooter in his career. Those 3s are ones the C’s will live with as they chase around other wings on the roster.
Bottom line here? The Celtics defense is going to be very busy this series on the perimeter. Communication is going to be paramount as countless switches and closeouts are going to be required to keep Miami’s shooters in check. The Celtics are well equipped to do this — having limited the Raptors and Sixers to 29.2 percent shooting from deep in the first two rounds and ranking second in 3-point defense in the regular season. Boston may not have the benefit of a Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam or Al Horford throwing up bricks this time around though. All the shooters on this roster are legitimate and will give the C’s their biggest test of the postseason.
Getting to the FT Line
If 3-point shooting is Miami’s top strength, getting to the line is a strong second. They led the NBA in the regular season in free throw rate and that success has continued in the postseason despite facing two teams that avoided fouling well in the regular season (Indiana, Milwaukee). The catalyst to all of this begins with Jimmy Butler, who averaged 9.1 free throws per game during the regular season with his ability to create contact off his drives and midrange game. Goran Dragic (4.2 FTA/G) remains a crafty lefty that punishes slower defenders for closing out too much on his 3-point shot.
However, the biggest trouble the C’s have faced so far this year came with Bam Adebayo (5.3 FTA/G) who bullied his way to a career-high 18 free throw attempts in the meeting between the two squads in Miami last month. The Celtics tried to go small at times against him and Adebayo ate the C’s up on the glass and with his strength in the post, so Brad Stevens is going to have to avoid a similar fate in this series.
Avoiding fouling has been a weak spot for the C’s during the regular season (24th in the NBA) but the C’s have improved significantly in that area during their two series wins thus far. That trend will need to continue as Boston will need to be disciplined and avoid getting blown by as they close out on 3-point shooters to leave them vulnerable to fouling out of position. It’s far easier said than done against this offense, but it’s going to be a critical part of slowing them down. If the Celtics do have to foul someone, Adebayo (69 percent in the regular season) is the guy.
Having multiple threats on the floor at all times
Six different Heat players are averaging in double figures in the postseason, which has helped fuel their