Eastern Conference Finals: Four key factors for Heat and Celtics ahead of crucial Game 4

Bam Adebayo challenges Jaylen Brown
Will the Boston Celtics tie the series? Photo by USA Today.

With the Boston Celtics making the series interesting via a huge Game 3 victory, the stakes just got a bit higher for Game 4. If the Miami Heat fails to escape the Celtics, they lose every bit of momentum they worked hard to earn during the first two games. Unless this series extends to a Game 7, there’s no doubt that the next match-up will be the most pivotal one during this year’s Eastern Conference Finals face-off.

Game 4 should be a battle right from the get-go, and here are several X-factors that could spell the difference between a win or a loss for both the Celtics and the Heat.

Hayward brings in the intangibles

Hayward may have scored only six points in the Game 3 win, but his presence on both ends of the floor changed the course of that contest. On offense, his smart off-ball movements and hockey assists busted the Heat’s zone defense. On the defensive end, the veteran forward came up with three steals.

With the mobility and court smarts that come with his 6-foot-8 length, he can cover bases on defense and also see above defenders and make the right passes on offense. Another thing worth noting is that Hayward logged in 30 minutes in Game 3, a great indicator of how ready he is coming off an ankle injury.

How will Spoelstra make scoring easier for Dragic?

It’s no coincidence that Goran Dragic struggled with his shooting when the Celtics put defensive ace Marcus Smart on him. After averaging 27 points in the first two games, Dragic only tallied 11 markers in the recent loss, emphasized by a lowly 2-10 clip from the field, including a measly one out of five from the three-point line.

Dragic has been a key cog in Miami’s postseason run as his combo offense is a difficult puzzle to solve for opposing teams. But Smart was named to this year’s All-Defensive First Team for a reason, and it’s now up to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra on how he would scheme the team’s offense to free up Dragic from Smart.

Butler should be more assertive on offense

While it’s true that Jimmy Butler is one of the most unselfish superstars in the NBA, the Heat will need more from his scoring. Butler only attempted 13 shots in Game 3 and had six tries at the free throw line.

With the Celtics making life difficult for Dragic, Butler should take it upon himself to put more pressure on Boston’s defense. The All-Star forward may need to be more selfish if he has to, and gravitate the Celtics’ defense towards him.


Tatum and Brown can’t afford to have an off-night

One important thing that has been consistent for Boston this series is the fine play of their two young stars. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are finding their groove on offense, while also extending tremendous effort on defense. With that said, the Celtics can’t afford an off night from either one of them, especially with Hayward still not on a hundred percent.

If Tatum and Brown eclipse at least 23 markers each, the Celtics should lock up Game 4 and even up their series against the Heat.

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