The Eastern Conference Finals will have the Boston Celtics face-off against the Miami Heat. Both teams have strong backcourts with some advantages going to each. But the deciding factor to this series may come from players other than the stars.
Role Players Will Need To Step Up
The biggest factor for the Celtics has been Marcus Smart. He’s stepped up big since the absence of Gordon Hayward. Smart, not being a stat sheet stuffer, contributes on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he’s knocked down shots like his 5 straight threes against the Raptors in game 2. Defensively, call it a flop or not, but Smart forces charges and other offensive issues for the opponent.
There’s no surprise that Boston is considerably thin at frontcourt. However, Daniel Theis has shown to be an above-average big. After guarding Joel Embiid in the first round, then Marc Gasol in the second, he’s shown his worth. Now he’s facing the athletic Bam Adebayo who’s averaging 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds this season. When you consider the athletic difference, this may be his toughest assignment yet. But if Boston wants to keep their season alive, Theis will need to play well. Specifically, keep Bam off the boards as much as possible.
Key Matchups To Watch Out For
Jimmy Butler on the Heat has made it no secret that he wants to guard the best player. Last round he took on the assignment of guarding the MVP. Now, he will most likely have to guard Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown. If so, this will be interesting to see just which players will hold an advantage. Butler has undoubtedly played big, but Tatum has really come to his own in this playoffs. Averaging well over 20 points, Tatum only seems to elevate as the postseason continues. Now that Brown doesn’t have to guard Pascal Siakam, look to see more shots from him.
Another interesting matchup is Kemba Walker and Goran Dragic. Walker, having issues last round against Nick Nurses' defenses is no more. A whole new team means that Walker may have more offensive opportunities in this eastern conference finals. Walker averaging 20.4 points this season has looked to fully heal from being hurt. Dragic is a talented, but older player who doesn’t possess the same quickness as Walker.
Perimeter Defense Will Be The Deciding Factor
With Gordon Hayward planning a return it will certainly give the Celtics more depth they desperately need. Hayward also gives the Celtics another offensive threat around the perimeter. But the duo threat of Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson is a big one for Coach Brad Stephens. His players will need to find a way to rotate quickly and defend the pick and roll effectively. If the Celtics can’t, expect blowout losses once those two get hot.
I expect this eastern conference finals series to end going 6 to 7 games. Depending on just how healthy Hayward will return, the Celtics will come out victorious. The talent pool in the backcourt is just too heavy for the heat to withstand. The Heat needs Herro, Robinson, and Dragic to all knockdown shots to win. Butler will have tough assignments no matter who he defends. Which will be difficult for his offense to get going in some games. The frontcourt may be the only worry for the Celtics. But as long as Hayward returns, the outcome is pretty strong.
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