As in 2012 and 2020, the Heat and the Celtics will compete for a place for the Finals and Eastern Conference supremacy. At the time, in the wake of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, then Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, it was the Florida franchise that won twice against that of Massachusetts.
But today, even though Miami has the home field advantage and even though there are a lot of faces identical to those of the Orlando “bubble” in each camp, Boston could well be in position of strength. Already, because the confidence of the players of Ime Udoka is at its highest, since they released Brooklyn then the defending champion (Milwaukee), in the previous rounds. Then, because it is the most successful team in the league since February 1: 32 wins in 41 games.
However, Erik Spoelstra’s men have the offensive and defensive weapons to annoy the C’s, while Jimmy Butler undoubtedly plays one of the best sneakers of his life (if not the best). Kyle Lowry’s injury may, of course, handicap the South Beach troops, but Marcus Smart is also diminished. Especially since, until now, the course of the protected Pat Riley (Atlanta, Philadelphia) is also very controlled.
What offer us an enticing series, between two iron defenses and several renowned All-Stars.
PRESENTATION OF THE HEAT
Holders: K. Lowry, J. Butler, M. Strus, P. Tucker, B. Adebayo.
The substitutes: G. Vincent, T. Herro, V. Oladipo, D. Robinson, C. Martin, D. Dedmon.
The coach: E. Spoelstra.
The main question in this series obviously concerns the state of health of Kyle Lowry, currently in trouble with his hamstrings, to the point of missing Game 5 then Game 6 against the Sixers, as well as Game 1 against the Celtics. So far, the All-Star point guard’s physical glitches haven’t hurt the Heat too much in these playoffs, as Gabe Vincent and returning Victor Oladipo have raised their game. are linked, his return would be seen with a very good eye, because he is one of the masters of the Erik Spoelstra collective, which he stabilized… when he is in full possession of his means.
A collective for the moment sublimated by the XXL performances of Jimmy Butler, who has clearly re-activated the “bubble” mode for a month. Far from being lonely, the All-Star winger can also count on the solidity of his lieutenants, such as Bam Adebayo in the racket or Max Strus and PJ Tucker on the outside, in addition to Tyler Herro when he is in a good pass. (which is not the case so far, like Duncan Robinson). But the second knives of South Beach will have more than ever an important role to play against Boston. Especially if Kyle Lowry has to stay away from the pitch a little longer…
– A suffocating defense. It was already a strong point even before the start of the playoffs and the playoffs against the Hawks and the Sixers confirmed it. With 104.6 points conceded on 100 possessions in the first two rounds, compared to 108.4 in the regular season, the Heat continue to make a strong impression on this side of the floor. Historically and culturally built around defense, the Florida franchise has not deviated from its principles so far and Trae Young, James Harden or Joel Embiid can attest to that. Because, in Miami, good defenders are everywhere and physical intensity is omnipresent, for a winning cocktail.
– A group of hired killers. NBA finalist two years ago, with a very similar group to this year’s, the Heat are not afraid of the pressure of the cleaver games: Erik Spoelstra has already won two titles and played two more Finals, Jimmy Butler is used to the playoffs, just like Bam Adebayo, while we remember that the rookie Tyler Herro had exploded during the “bubble” of Orlando. In short: the Miami players, reinforced as a bonus by the two champions Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker, have the typical profile of the team built for the spring games. And it was also seen during the first two rounds.
– The outside shoot. With only 32% success at 3-pts in these playoffs, the Heat is currently not as skilful behind the arc as in the regular season (38%). Inevitably, this clumsiness could be expensive in this conference final, against the well-placed defense of the Celtics. Without Kyle Lowry, there is only Max Strus able to bring a real threat from afar, in the five major, because Jimmy Butler is not a shooting specialist and PJ Tucker is only really effective in the corners. And as behind Duncan Robinson is hardly used anymore and Tyler Herro is clumsy, just like Gabe Vincent and Victor Oladipo so far…
– The physical glitches. Between Kyle Lowry, already forfeited for Game 1, but also the uncertainties that reign around PJ Tucker, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin, all uncertain for the start of this conference final, the Heat infirmary is far from to be empty. Let it be said, it would be surprising to see these four players in “game time decision” not holding their place, but the fact that they are not 100% can be worrying. Especially if they are absent during the series. So beware that the dynamic of the Florida group is not broken, even if it has proven that it could do without several executives, in the regular season.
PRESENTATION OF THE CELTICS
Holders: M.Smart, J.Brown, J.Tatum, A.Horford, R.Williams.
The substitutes: D. White, P. Pritchard, G. Williams, D. Theis.
The coach: I. Udoka.
The more the days pass, the more the collective of the Celtics gains in complementarity and increases in power. Even when Marcus Smart and Robert Williams, their two defensive captains, are physically handicapped, they find ways to cope and limit the damage. It must be said that, on the outside, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are not weakening as leaders of the C’s attack, while the rebirth of Al Horford is doing the team a world of good, under the panels.
Coming off the bench, Ime Udoka can also count on valiant soldiers, like the versatile Derrick White and Grant Williams, decisive a few times in these playoffs, but also on duty players, like Daniel Theis and Payton Pritchard. Apart from this quartet, it seems difficult to imagine other elements obtaining significant minutes, because the rookie coach of the Massachusetts franchise has become accustomed to playing with a tight rotation, since the beginning of the year 2022. .
– group dynamics. Authors of a very complicated start (11th in the East on January 16, with 22 wins and 22 losses), the Celtics then remobilized to succeed in a second part of the gun exercise. In these playoffs, they have also not weakened, both against the Nets and against the Bucks. We can even say, without exaggerating too much, that all Boston players play their best basketball at the best time of the year. Full of confidence, the C’s don’t fail to impress. Definitely a godsend, at this time of the season.
– Defense. In the wake of 2022 DPOY Marcus Smart, the Celtics attacked the playoffs with the best NBA defense and, even without Robert Williams, they held their own in this area. Composed entirely of good, even very good, defenders, their starting five is able to “switch” permanently and their holders are difficult to take from behind in isolation. The kind of pattern that can therefore be a problem for the Heat, as it has been a problem for the Nets and the Bucks in the previous two rounds. Especially since the Florida attack has often coughed this season, on half-court.
– A demanding defense. The Celtics change on all screens and their versatility allows them to be little challenged. We saw it against the Nets and the Bucks, because Kevin Durant rarely got the better of his defender, despite his talent and size. Ditto for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had to work a lot to get rid of his vis-à-vis, to the point of sometimes forcing and ending up on the kneecaps. The problem is that this way of defending is very demanding. Physically, because you have to be constantly alert and because the slightest delay can result in a breach and/or a fault. Mentally, because it requires communicating a lot and reading the screens well.
– Contribution to the scoring of substitutes. As long as Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown are having a very good night, the 22.5 points scored on average by the Celtics’ “second unit” (the 14th best total in the playoffs) should not be too handicapping. Except that the Heat’s defense is likely to thwart the “Jay’s” and, in this configuration, the Boston bench will have to raise its tone offensively, as in Game 7 against the Bucks. Thus, it will be up to Derrick White, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and Daniel Theis to come out of their box, together or in turn, for the good of the C’s course.
THE KEY TO THE SERIES
– The 3-pt address. In this series which pits two high-quality All-Stars (Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum), but above all two of the four best defenses in the league, the outside shot will be important. Because, to create breaches inside the line of 3-pts, the snipers will have to artillery in abundance, with regularity. It’s not necessarily the strength of the Heat and the Celtics, who should control the tempo of the game equally well, but if a few award-winning baskets start to fall in (more so on a zone defense), it will open up. everything else. And so change the face of this series…
November 4: Miami – Boston (78-95)
January 31: Boston –Miami (122-92)
March 30: Boston – Miami (98-106)
Very clever whoever manages to predict the winner of this new conference final between Miami and Boston. On paper, the two teams, ultimately quite similar, stand in a pocket handkerchief and this may also be reflected on the floor.
However, we risk tipping the balance in favor of the Celtics, the best team in recent months. Victorious over two big fish in the first two rounds (Brooklyn and Milwaukee), and in particular the defending champions, the players from Massachusetts are overflowing with self-confidence, even if their conference semi-final against the Bucks was able to shoot the organisms. They will not have the home advantage, but they have already demonstrated that they are capable of fetching cutthroat games outside (Game 6 with the Bucks).
As long as the injuries of Marcus Smart and Robert Williams heal quickly, and that of Kyle Lowry takes longer to disappear, the C’s can settle in control and no longer look behind them. Already that their defense is in place, their offense seems a little more talented than that of the Heat, in the wake of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. A Heat which will have little margin for error, therefore, but which will above all have to hope that several of its second knives wake up, to compete over time with the Celtic armada.
Without that, the 2020 finalists will have a hard time matching their journey from the Orlando “bubble” and the franchise with 17 NBA titles will hold its revenge, in order to give itself the possibility of aiming for an 18th record.
Game 1: in Miami, Tuesday May 17 (02:30 a.m., Tuesday night to Wednesday in France)
Game 2: in Miami, Thursday May 19 (02:30 a.m., Thursday night to Friday in France)
Game 3: in Boston, Saturday May 21 (02:30 a.m., on the night of Saturday to Sunday in France)
Game 4: in Boston, Monday, May 23 (02:30 a.m., Monday to Tuesday night in France)
Game 5*: in Miami, Wednesday, May 25 (TBD)
Game 6*: in Boston, Friday, May 27 (TBD)
Game 7*: in Miami, Sunday, May 29 (TBD)
* If necessary.
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