Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

The Eastern Conference Finals are all set in the NBA, as the Miami Heat will face the Boston Celtics for the chance to go to the NBA Finals.

For the first time in NBA history, neither of the top 2 seeds in the East advanced to the conference finals, as Boston finished 3rd and Miami finished all the way in 5th, behind the Pacers who they swept in the first round. These two teams took somewhat similar paths to the ECF, both at times making it look easy.

Both the Celtics and the Heat swept their first round opponents with relative ease, as the Heat handled the Pacers, and the Celtics dominated the Philadelphia 76ers. In the second round it looked to be more of the same as both teams jumped out to a 2-0 lead. The Heat went on to win game 3 against the Bucks, en route to a 5 game slaughter of the top-seed out of Milwaukee.

Miami knocked off top-seeded Milwaukee in 5 games to reach the ECF. Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

The Celtics on the other hand were dealing with the defending champs in the Toronto Raptors, and after a last second prayer saved them in game 3, they were able to push the Celtics while extending the series to 7 games. Ultimately, Boston got the job done in the deciding game and will now face possibly their toughest test yet.

The Celtics knocked off the defending champion Raptors in 7 games. Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer

Miami has run roughshod through the first two rounds of the East playoffs going 8-1 and winning by an average margin of 8.4 ppg. They are scoring at a 112.1 per game clip, which is exactly where they were in the regular season. The difference has been on the defensive end where they are holding opponents to the 103.7 after allowing 109.1 during the regular season. They have done this behind stellar play from Jimmy Butler, who has vaulted himself into the superstar conversation with several heroic efforts late in games to close out victories for the Heat. He is averaging 22 ppg In these playoffs, up slightly from 19.9 during the regular season. His most notable performances so far were his 17 point fourth quarter in game 3 that led the biggest single quarter turnaround in playoff history, and his 40 point outburst in game 1 that saw him drop 15 in the final frame.

Jimmy Butler has been terrific in leading the Heat to upsets of the Pacers and Bucks so far. Photo Credit: Kim Klement USA Today

It hasn’t been all Butler for the Heat though, as they set a team record in game 2 against the Bucks with 7 players scoring in double figures. Goran Dragić has given this team a huge lift during these playoff, averaging 21.1 ppg after scoring 16.2 in the regular season. Other big contributions for the Heat have included rookie Tyler Herro who has averaged nearly 3 made threes per game, Duncan Robinson who has 7-8 from three in game 2 against the Pacers and 6-12 in a game 4 loss to the Bucks, and of course Bam Adebayo who has somewhat quietly averaged a double double on almost 60% from the field. The Heat beat you with their depth and ability to play several different styles and match up against anyone.

On the flip side, the Boston Celtics beat you with straight up star power. They have 4 legitimate 20 point threats on any given night and if you add in the stellar play from Marcus Smart you could even up that to 5. For the playoffs they are averaging 107.6 ppg and surrending exactly 100, after averaging 113 per game and giving up 107 in the regular season.They just beat the defending champions fairly soundly without Gordon Hayward. Sure, Toronto took them to 7 games and made it tough at times, but the Celtics were a miracle last second shot by OG Anunoby, a missed call against Kemba Walker in game 6, a couple of nightmare performances from Jaylen Brown in game 4, and Jayson Tatum in game 5 and a combined 22-61 from the big three in game 6 from a sweep.

Jaylen Brown will look to continue his success against the Miami Heat. Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper/USA Today

Jayson Tatum has made another leap in these playoffs; after averaging 23, 7, and 3 in the regular season he has been tearing it up to the tune of 25, 8, and 4. He has had several heroic performances lifting his team as of late, including 3 games over 30 points, back to back games scoring 29 to close out the Raptors, one of which was an assist away from a triple double. Just like Butler has had plenty of help in Miami, Tatum got the same from his Celtics teammates.

While Jaylon Brown’s struggles have been well documented, he still had 31 in game 6 and 27 in game 5, and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be here without Marcus Smart coming up huge time and time again. In game 7 he had arguably the play of the series when he blocked a breakaway layup that would have tied the game with a minute remaining for the raptors. Smart also came up huge in game 2 with 5 threes in the 4th quarter, as well as in game 6 when he had a triple double including 31 points.

For the season, the Celtics have won 2 of the 2 head to head meetings, although Miami won the most recent meeting in the bubble, 112-106. In the first meeting between these teams, Boston blew out Miami 112-93 way back in December. In that game Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 37 in a losing effort and Jaylen Brown scored 31 for the Celtics. In the second meeting, Gordon Hayward led the way with 29 points in a 109-101 Celtics victory. Then, in the final meeting between these teams the Heat were able to get the win, despite missing Jimmy Butler. In that one Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo each had 21 and Goran Dragic added 20.

Goran Dragic will have to continue his scoring outburst if the Heat want to pull off another upset. Photo Credit Kim Klement.

These two teams have faced each other 140 times including 17 playoff games over 3 series. The Celtics lead the overall matchup 83-57 and will look to continue their dominance over a Miami squad they have beaten 5 of the last 6 times they have played. Miami looks to continue to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and show that this is not the same team that finished 5th in the conference. Both teams will be looking to punch their ticket to the finals and this exciting matchup begins in earnest tonight, Tuesday, September 15th. Who can get off to a good start and take the 1-0 lead and control of the series? Who will make it to the NBA Finals? Tonight is the first step towards answering both of those questions.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement USA Today

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