The Miami Heat will meet the talented Boston Celtics on the sidelines

Game 1: Heat at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday (TNT)

Game 2: Heat at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET Friday (TNT)

Third game: Celtics at Heat, 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday (TNT)

Fourth game: Celtics at Heat, 8:30 p.m. ET May 23 (TNT)

*Fifth game: Heat at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET May 25 (TNT)

*Game 6: Celtics at Heat, 8:30 p.m. ET May 27 (TNT)

*Game 7: Heat at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET May 29 (TNT)

* If necessary

BetMGM series odds: No. 2 Celtics -550 No. 8 Heat +400

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The second- and third-seeded Boston Celtics meet the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals for the third time in four years. The two teams split in their last two meetings in the third round. Miami beat Boston in six games in the 2020 bubble, and the Celtics beat the Heat in seven games in last year’s series.

Who will start for the Celtics?

We know who Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra will be starting for, or at least we think we do. Except for Jimmy ButlerDue to an injury absence in one game, the Heat have used the same starting lineup since inclusion Kevin Love Together with Butler, Bam Adebayo, Max Strauss And Gabe Vincent In Game 3 of the first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. That group edged out the New York Knicks by 13.7 points per 100 possessions in 82 minutes of the conference semifinals after a net negative finish against the Bucks.

Tyler HeroA broken right hand, which prevented him from shooting or dribbling for three weeks and would keep him out (at least) from Game 1 of this series, has taken away the flexibility of Spoelstra’s lineup. Love makes the most sense as a fifth start, just because Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson And Caleb Martin She is respectively very outdated, very inconsistent and very necessary as a wing option off the bench. Only prayers lie behind them.

The importance of love also presents a weak defensive link for the Miami rotation. It may be known about love One of the greatest isolated defensive possessions in NBA history, but that was seven years ago, and he has never been described as a stopper before or since. The question is how (not if) the Celtics will target him.

Boston head coach Joe Mazzola saved his season by starting Robert Williams Third as the second largest next to Alhorford For the final two games of the first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. They were +19 in 47 minutes with mainstay starters Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown And Marcus Smart. This follows a trend of dominance that began last year when that unit outperformed opponents by 24.6 points per 100 possessions.

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A big double was needed against the Sixers. The Celtics were willing to live with him PJ TuckerShooting accuracy if it means Williams can roam the baseline, double team Joel Embiid and edge protection James Harden. They may be willing to live by the same looks from Love, who shoots 33.9% on 5.4 3-point attempts per game in the playoffs, roughly the same rates he scored during the regular season.

Miami edged out a starting lineup of Tatum, Brown, Smart, Horford and Williams by eight goals in 29 minutes of last year’s Conference Finals, though the duo of Horford and Williams finished +12 in 46 minutes. Williams missed the first three regular season games against the Heat, and Horford did not play in the final meeting. Grant Williams enjoyed success as a big second against Miami as well, but Mazzola gave him up.

Mazzulla may also see an opportunity to tighten up the offense a bit more than Rob Williams who beefs up the defense. He started cutting the guard Derek White Instead of Williams vs. the Bigs Atlanta Hawks Clint Capella And John Collins. White ignited those looks as Boston’s third-best player behind Tatum and Brown in the opening round, averaging 17.3 points on 56/46/91. Those numbers dropped to nine points on a 42% shooting against Philadelphia, forcing Mazzola to lean on his team’s defensive identity.

Whether Mazzola starts Williams or White will go a long way toward telling us if he’s more concerned about his team’s defense or offense this Series. Starting Williams is a ploy to limit the offensive impact of Butler and Adebayo and dares Miami to beat Boston from the perimeter. Starting white is a scheme to leave love with nowhere to hide in front of a five-ball team full of predatory offensive playmakers.

The Celtics had success in last year’s series against Miami with small-ball lineups that included White and Peyton PritchardBoston is now proud Malcolm Brogdon Another option is to handle the ball off the bench. It’ll be fascinating to see how comfortable the Celtics can be playing against a Heat that features the 6-foot-9 Adebayo as the sole paint guard and veteran backup. Cody Zeller As the only proven center option on the roster, or if Boston deems smothering Miami with size in a more appropriate matchup.

This is just the first decision in a chess match between Spoelstra, arguably the best tactician in the game, and Mazzola, a first-year coach whose playoff career has been a crash course in strategy.

Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat and Jason Tatum’s Boston Celtics meet in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years. (Michael Reeves / Getty Images)

How can Miami make points in the half court?

Miami’s offensive half-court rating through two playoff runs is 100.1, in cleaning glass, a marked upgrade from their 23rd-ranked offense during the regular season (96.7 points per 100 possessions) and still more than six points behind Boston’s top-ranked unit in this postseason. The Heat scored 85.6 points per 100 half-court possessions (the worst in NBA territory) against Boston in last year’s Conference Finals.

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It helps that everyone in the Miami League shoots better from 3-point range in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, including Duncan Robinson, who came back to hit 42.6% of his 5.5 attempts from range for the night. His accuracy fell off a cliff in the year he had finger surgery on his shooting hand.

It also helps that Butler becomes a superstar every postseason. He attempts 10.1 free throws per game and more than twice as many three-pointers as he did during the regular season, with a career-high 31.1 points per game. (Although that number dropped to 24.5 if he only shot 41.7% from the field and 12.5% ​​if he shot from distance in four games because he badly injured his right ankle).

Butler has the strength and mentality to deal with the Celtics, who are prone to bullying. Miami’s half-court offense might have been non-existent in last year’s series against Boston had Butler not recorded 10.3 free throw attempts in the Heat’s three wins. He averaged 5.8 in Miami’s four losses.

Adebayo’s offense is as constant as ever. He averaged 18.1 points on 49.7% shooting in the playoffs, scored between 15 and 23 points in 10 of his 11 games and attempted 16-20 field goals most of those nights. That’s a far cry from his performance against the Celtics in last year’s Conference Finals, when he scored 10 points or fewer on six or fewer shots in four of the seven games.

Without Hero taking responsibility for the stretches, the Heat needed all of those factors working in their favor to score 98.4 points per 100 half-court possessions, on par with the Washington Wizards this season.

The math doesn’t work in Miami’s favor here. The Heat rely on the Butler-Adebayo pick-and-roll combination to generate offense, and the Celtics just finished sorting out the Harden-Embiid combination that is among the best tandems in the league and can hurt defenses in more ways than Miami’s best players.

In other words, the series might really come down to whether Strus, Vincent, Love, Lowry, Martin and Robinson can get hot from a distance in the seven-game conference finals. Those six are shooting 36.8% on 31.4 3-point attempts per game in the playoffs, but the Heat has yet to chase an offense like Boston, which shoots a league-best 39.5% from distance. as a team (38.9 tries per night) in the playoffs.

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Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, left, heads toward the basket as Philadelphia 76ers forward PJ Tucker, right, defends during the first half of Game 7 in the NBA Semifinals game series, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Boston .  (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The onus will be on Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown to avoid a turnaround against the Miami Heat. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Can the Celtics keep the Heat from forcing a turnaround?

It may sound too simplistic, but the Celtics could bend the math even more in their favor if they could take care of the ball. Miami scored an average of 24.7 points in 18.7 tournaments over Boston in three wins during last year’s Conference Finals. Those numbers dropped to 13 points on 11.5 turnovers in the Heat’s four losses.

Boston’s two best players, Tatum and Brown, were the biggest offenders. They combined to average 11 turnovers between them in Games 1, 3, and 6 losses for Miami, and averaged half that in Celtics wins.

The Heat exposed weaknesses in Tatum and Brown’s ball handling through traffic that the Golden State Warriors took advantage of in a championship in the 2022 NBA Finals. Tatum has done a better job than Brown over the past year at tightening up those handles, Celtics Brogdon added. to correct their negligence.

Miami also lost the power of Tucker to free agency and Victor Oladipoinjury length. Both defended Tatum and Brown in nearly half of the 56 competitors in last year’s conference finals. Butler can’t protect Boston’s All-Star wingers, and Tucker’s presence last season allowed Butler to spend the bulk of his time defending the Browns from the ball. Butler should paint Tatum’s job—a look the Heat avoided during the regular season, when Martin W Haywood Highsmith They were among the players who have spent the most time guarding Boston’s MVP – the 33-year-old Miami captain will carry an enormous burden on both ends.

We’ve seen titanic efforts from Butler before, but the law firm of Vincent, Strauss, Martin & Laurie—all better advocates than they get—isn’t going to get any break. They have to have their hands on every lane of traffic, converge with Boston football players, pass the ball on every turn and recover quickly when the Celtics kick any number of pitchers on the perimeter. Otherwise, Adebayo could see a steady stream of edge attacks. He is also fully capable, As we learned in Game 1 of the 2020 Conference Finalsbut turning turnovers into an easy offense is better than constantly forcing the basket.

The Heat will throw zone defenses and everything into their back pocket at the Celtics. District didn’t fare so well last year when Boston scored an astronomical 1.45 points per possession over the Miami District 29 in the 2022 Conference Finals, but Spoelstra will challenge his inexperienced counterpart to make adjustments as often as possible. Miami must disrupt Boston’s haphazard offense enough to keep the games close, as Butler and Adebayo are confident they can take down the more talented Celtics under pressure. Whether this series is long or short will depend on how many of those moments Miami can command.

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