After a grueling second round of NBA playoff basketball, two victors of their respective series will face off for the rights to the Eastern Conference crown. The Miami Heat took down the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. It wasn’t easy as the Heat struggled to put them away at first. They allowed Philly to tie up the series but were able to bear down for a home game five and road game six to advance. Meanwhile, Boston had to come from behind at every step of their series against the Milwaukee Bucks. They never had an official series lead until after winning game seven at home. There were some good regular-season matchups between these two teams with the Celtics taking two out of three games. Most of the comparable areas are tightly contested which will set up an epic ECF rematch from back in the 2020 bubble.
Star power- Celtics
The defined stars for each team are Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for the Heat and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for the Celtics. While the Celtics get the advantage that shouldn’t take away from Butler’s magic. He’s averaging 28 ppg on over 61% TS in 11 playoff games. Combine his offensive brilliance with Adeabyo’s defensive excellence and the Heat have a fantastic star duo. But the difference lies in the well-roundedness of Tatum and Brown. Both carry the Celtic offense while being great defenders in Boston’s top-ranked defense.
Role players- Celtics
The quality of the “others” has to go to the Celtics. One of their role players is a DPOY in Marcus Smart. Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Al Horford are the core of Boston’s versatile and switchable defense that has very few flaws. And their role players contribute enough offensively to boost them ahead. Miami has the 6MOY in Tyler Herro but not as many two-way impactful players that can explode offensively while holding it down defensively.
While Miami got edged out in terms of the quality of their role players, they have a clear quantity edge. The Heat could go 12 players down their roster and not skip too much of a beat on either end. They have quality backups for every role and position. When Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent are on the back end of their rotation that’s a strong signal of how deep the Heat are. On the other hand, Boston goes about only 8-9 players deep in their rotation.
Neither of these teams has massive amounts of size and big bodies to throw at their opponents. Both can ride smaller lineups to victory but the Celtics have a bit more versatility to scale up than the Heat. Robert Williams and Al Horford bring interior size and rebounding versus mainly Bam Adebayo for Miami. In the rebounding department, Boston ranked top five in rebounds per game and top 10 in contested rebounding percentage in the regular season.
The three-point shot and the threat that it creates for the opposing defense will be a major factor as it is for every playoff series. Miami was the 2nd best team from three with a 37.3% from distance as a team. Boston came in at 35.8% which was good for 12th. The Heat also have 10 players in their rotation who shoot it at a 35% clip or better. Six of them shoot the three-ball at a 40% rate. The Celtics have five 35% three-point shooters in the rotation.
Finishing/rim pressure- Celtics
Along with three-point shooting, the ability to get to the rim is paramount to creating good offense in the playoffs. The Celtics get to the rim more often than the Heat as evident by 48.2 Celtics drives per game to the Heat’s 40.4. When they get to the rim, the Celtics are also better at finishing there. Boston has six players in their rotation with a 70% or better shooting percentage from 0-3 feet out while the Heat have just four players.
Offensive flow- Heat
Offensive flow is essentially how well the ball movement and player movement work together to create a strong motion that gets the defense to rotate. Here, I like the Heat’s free-flowing motion offense because of how natural it is. They get into actions seamlessly and are the better team at cutting and moving without the ball. Boston has good motion-based sets but can be bogged down and rely on tough shot-making even if they do it a lot less often now.
Interior defense- Celtics
Both teams are anchored by strong rim protection but like with the size category, two is better than one. Robert Williams not only brings elite helpside paint protection but the Celtics also have a host of other secondary rim protectors. Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum are known to slide over and provide solid help at the rim. Al Horford and Grant Williams are also fantastic post defenders. Bam Adebayo is a very good rim protector but the Heat doesn’t have the extra post or help defense that the Celtics possess.
Perimeter defense- Celtics
This area is by far the hardest to choose who has the advantage in. Both teams love to switch most if not all ball screens with the Heat’s value coming from the unicorn that is Bam Adebayo. He can lock down guards which gives the Heat more flexibility than most teams. Boston on the other hand switches everything and doesn’t mind putting Marcus Smart on bigger players. The Celtics get the ever so slight edge here because it’s far less easy to switch hunt for a favorable matchup since every defender is so versatile in their lineup.
I love what both Ime Udoka and Eric Spoelstra have done as coaches this season. Spoelstra has once again coached good talent to great results and Udoka’s defensive system is the foundation of why the Celtics have made it this far. Spoelstra gets an advantage because he’s the more seasoned playoff coach which does matter. The more playoff games you’ve coached the more ready you are to make adjustments on a scheme and player level.
Boston has an awesome team culture going right now with everyone at maximum levels of buy-in to what they have going on right now. However, the Heat’s chemistry and culture might be the strongest in the entire NBA. They can argue and fight but it’s all making them stronger as a unit and that’s the sign of not good but excellent team culture.
Celtics in 6