Celtics

Celtics Look to Avenge 2012 Conference Finals Loss vs. Heat

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The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have only met in the playoffs three times, with just one of those occurring in the conference finals. In 2012, the Heat were looking for a second-straight finals appearance after a disappointing 2011 finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics had been convincingly beaten by the Heat in 2011’s second round and were looking for revenge.

The 2012 Eastern Conference Finals proved to by much more exciting than the series that took place the year prior. After the Heat won games one and two, it looked like it was over for Boston. Nevertheless, a furious push by Boston saw them in the driver’s seat in the series with wins in the next three games.

The C’s then had no answer for LeBron James. He dominated game six and seven, averaging 38.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists to close out the series. The Heat then went on to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals, giving LeBron his first NBA championship.

Seventeen-year-man Udonis Haslem is the lone remaining player from that 2012 series. The rebuilds both teams have experienced since that matchup have taken both franchises down much different paths, but that doesn’t mean these present teams are not led by star-caliber players of their own.

Jimmy Butler Proving He’s Worth Every Penny

The Heat, led by all-star Jimmy Butler, are coming off the gentleman’s sweep of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Butler was outstanding all over the floor, leading the Heat in points per game (23.4) on 53.2% shooting from the floor and steals (1.8) per game. He was particularly aggressive attacking the rim. The Bucks ranked third in blocks during the regular season, but that did not deter Butler from challenging their rim protectors. He averaged a whopping 10.8 free throws attempted per game, outpacing the player with the second-most attempts on the Heat by 26 (Bam Adebayo).

Butler’s aggressiveness allows his other teammates to get involved as well. When he is driving the ball to the hoop, he draws multiple defenders, which opens opportunities for kicks to open shooters in the corner or opposite wing. His awareness showed, as he tied for team lead in assists per game with Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo with 4.4 per game.

Tatum On The Cusp Of Superstardom

Jayson Tatum will have to make some adjustments ahead of his matchup against Butler, who will likely be the primary defender on Tatum to start the series. Butler never backs down from a challenge, and with a trip to the finals on the line, you can bet that Butler will take the job.

Tatum only played in only two of the Celtics’ three matchups with the Heat this year. He averaged 21.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in those games– all of which were below his full-season averages. The Heat are versatile on defense with head coach Erik Spoelstra at the controls. He switches up schemes often, much like Raptors head coach Nick Nurse did in the previous series. Tatum was able to get in a rhythm against the Raptors, and will need to continue his hot streak for the Celtics to have their best chance for a finals birth.

Lastly, Tatum is coming off a monster performance in game seven. He became the second-youngest player ever to have 25+ points, 10.5 rebounds, and 5+ assists in a game seven, only behind the late-great Kobe Bryant. Tatum’s 29/12/7 performance saw him lead the team in all three categories. As Tatum said himself, anytime you are in a list with someone like Kobe, you must be doing something right. His ability to get clutch buckets at the end of games is something every championship team needs.

Though Tatum was second on the team with 5.4 assists per game, he struggled with the Raptors’ defense at times. Leading the team with 25 turnovers in a series is definitely concerning, but he should be able to take advantage of some some easier matchups going forward. Miami’s guards are much smaller and less physical than Toronto’s, which will benefit the bigger Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If the Celtics can force Butler to switch on someone else while Tatum gets consistent positive matchups, look for him to have another monster series.

Miami Presents Their Own Match Up Problem

Some people are still not believers in Bam Adebayo, which I guess, to each their own right? Miami’s stretch-five center fared exceptionally well against the Bucks, averaging 17.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists against the Bucks in the previous round. The third-year man out of Kentucky affects the game all over the floor, with his biggest impact likely on the offensive glass. He led everyone in the previous series with 16 offensive rebounds, which is surprising considering the Bucks led the NBA in defensive rebounding during the regular season. The question for him will be can he continue this hot streak against Boston– the team leading the playoffs in both defensive and total rebounding?

Against the Celtics this season, Bam averaged 15.0 points (49.9% FG), 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. With the way Daniel Theis was playing last series, you can expect him to start on Bam. Theis, who led the team with 1.7 blocks per game against Toronto, has been playing like a true rim protector. Behind him, it appears that Grant Williams will get the first call off the bench. The rookie made a series-clinching play on defense to secure the Celtics’ conference finals birth.

Smart Continues To Lead By Example

Marcus Smart has as many conference finals appearances as the entire Heat starting lineup combined. He’s been playing like a true veteran that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. His constant effort and tenacity is glaring on the court, and he clearly leaves it all out there. Whether it be chasing down a loose ball or a player to make a game-saving block, you can always expect Smart to leave it all out on the line. He will likely draw the first assignment against Jimmy, as he has the speed and physicality to match-up with him. If Smart can stifle Butler’s ability to get his teammates and force contested shots, the Celtics’ chances of the winning the series will skyrocket.

How The Other Guards Stack Up

Jaylen Brown also has two conference finals appearances, both during his rookie and sophomore seasons. The experience Brown has been exposed to has allowed him to grow wise beyond his NBA tenure.

Brown’s three ball has been inconsistent this playoffs, however, as he’s only shot above 31% from deep in just four of eleven games this postseason. That has not stopped him from impacting the game in other areas, though. Through this point in the playoffs, Jaylen has led the team in steals with 1.5 per game and is second on the team in rebounding with 7.6 per game. Giving effort when your offensive game might not be on par separates the good players from the great. He’ll likely be tasked with chasing the sharp-shooting Duncan Robinson due to Kemba Walker’s lack of size.

Robinson has cooled off since game three in the first round against Indiana, shooting just 25.3% from three-point range. With his ability to knock down the open shot still present, however, seeing one go in is all it takes for him to heat up. Brown will need to stay aware of where Robinson is at all times, as he is great at moving around the perimeter without the ball.

Kemba Walker struggled to get in to a rhythm last series. From three-point range, he shot just 27.7%. A good sign for the C’s is that he was able to get involved in other ways, leading the team in assists with 7.2 per game, and averaged a serviceable +7.7 plus-minus for the series. He will likely guard Goran Dragic, the third-most experienced member of the Heat. Dragic is no slouch, as he has averaged 19.8 points per game in his last five games. He has the size advantage over Kemba, which could be an area of concern on the defensive end for Boston.

Series Outlook

For basketball fans, this is the perfect matchup:

  • Both are coming off impressive performances, albeit they achieved this conference title birth in different fashions
  • They play their own version of small-ball (tallest player among both teams starters is Bam Adebayo, who is 6’9″)
  • Each can be suffocating on defense, while also being extremely efficient on offense through stretches

My prediction is this that the Celtics offensive versatility will prove to be too much for the Heat. The Celtics were challenged in so many different ways on offense against the Raptors. Nick Nurse switched defenses often, from man-to-man, to a box-and-one, to a one-three-one zone, it was a constant game of cat and mouse between the coaches. This experience should bleed over into this series. Learning how to better find the matchups they want on the fly and exploit those once identified is vital. The offensive key for the Celtics will be to get Tatum going early and often, as the rest of his teammates should be able to take advantage of positive matchups.

On defense, the Celtics need to cover the three-point line. Miami comes in to this series third in the playoffs shooting 38.0% from distance. Limiting the Heat is no tall task, as they have seven players shooting 36% or better from three. This could be the matchup that decides the series. Look for Boston to have the advantage here, as they rank first in the playoffs holding opponents to just 30.5% from deep.

Prediction

My prediction is that Boston (-134) gets the win in six games. The Celtics’ two-way versatility will prove to be too much for the Heat. Boston’s ability to attack with multiple different players that can either create for others or finish plays by themselves is a luxury not many teams have.

Follow us on Twitter @CelticsLead for the latest Celtics news and insight.

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About Ryan Sieve

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio but currently residing in Cincinnati / Lifelong basketball fan / Enjoys watching and playing sports as well as an avid video game player

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