A mouth-watering match-up between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat awaits us in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics secured their place by besting the 2019 champs the Toronto Raptors in a tough fought seven-game series. The Heat reached the Eastern Finals two games earlier than Boston, upsetting the number one seed Milwaukee Bucks four games to one.
Although the Celtics – Heat rivalry has simmered down somewhat since the early 2010s, this will be an intense, evenly-split series. With players like Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler on each team expect a lot of grit, determination and passion on the court. Let’s take a look at five key factors to look out for ahead of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kemba on a huge stage
After toiling away in the doldrums of Charlotte for his entire career, Celtics point guard Kemba Walker, has reached the biggest stage. And it will be fascinating to see how he reacts to the pressure. On the defensive side of the ball, Walker was picked on heavily by the Raptors. Constantly being beaten up by screens, driven at and targeted seemingly took its toll on Kemba, who struggled offensively against Toronto.
After enduring Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry for seven games, Walker now has another tough match-up in the (rejuvenated) Goran Dragic. Dragic has impressed so far in the playoffs, averaging 21.1 points per game. It is an important, possibly career-defining moment for Cardiac Kemba. Whether the former UCONN player shrinks or rises to the occasion, one thing is for sure – it’s gonna be super entertaining to see Kemba in the Eastern Finals.
Jimmy Butler legacy moment
Jimmy Butler is fascinating. The Miami small-forward has had a somewhat strange career. However, from Chicago to Minnesota to Philly to Miami, Butler’s willingness to win has never wavered. After one full season in Miami, it appears that Butler has not only found a secure home but a home that enhances the brashest elements of Butler’s personality.
Butler, having already made swift work of the 2019/20 MVP, will relish going up against two of the best, youngest and most exciting forwards in the NBA in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Nevertheless, looking further than on the court, this moment presents a legacy-defining moment for Butler – who has the chance to lead his team to the Finals.
More often than not, and it is a cliche, the team that shoots better from three will win the game. The Celtics did a good job of disrupting the Raptors shooting from beyond the arc. Yet, the Heat have a pair of lethal snipers in Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. Robinson is shooting 6.8 threes a game, making 39.3% of them. Moreover, Tyler Herro is never one to shy away from a challenge.
If the Celtics are to keep this tough Heat team in check they better not let Robinson get hot. Heat back up big man, Kelly Olynyck, is semi-proficient from three; shooting 36% from deep during the playoffs. Last series, the Celtics struggled mightily trying to prevent Serge Ibaka making shots from deep. Keep an eye out for Olynyk coming off the bench and making a couple of big threes for the Heat at some point this series.
Depth on the bench
When you get this deep into the postseason, it’s of vital importance you have scoring options coming off the bench. In this category, the Heat are favoured over the Celtics, having Tyler Herro and veteran Andre Iguodala supplying points off the bench. The Celtics, however, are less fortunate.
Back up point guard Brad Wanamaker has been okay in spots off the bench but Wanamaker doesn’t possess any real quality. Grant Williams is more of a defensive specialist, likewise, back up big Robert Williams. However, if Gordon Hayward were to come back from his ankle injury in top form that would act as a shot in the arm for the Celtics who are vying for quality scoring options off in the rotation.
Bam’s time to shine
As mentioned before, this series presents a legacy-defining moment for Jimmy Butler. While Bam Adebayo is not quite in the same boat it is still a chance to cement his place as one of the elite centres in the NBA. Adebayo has become one of the NBA’s brightest young talents since the start of the 2019/20 season, earning a spot on the All-Star roster.
Adebayo’s matchup this series will be a mixture of Daniel Theis, Robert Williams and maybe Enes Kanter. Although it’s likely Theis and Williams will be in the main rotation. Theis is a serviceable starter for the Celtics, but expect Bam to produce on the offensive end against the German big man. Williams is slightly better defensively although, once again, Bam should rise to the challenge.
Adebayo is still young and has his whole career ahead of him. So this Finals series doesn’t mean the same to him as it does Butler. However, this victory would make Bam a household name.