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NBA Preview: Miami Heat and Boston Celtics Fight to Win the East

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A gaggle of mostly 20-something out-of-towners heading to Miami this time of 12 months typically could be called spring breakers.

But for our purposes, we’re referring to the Boston Celtics. Their reward for outlasting the Milwaukee Bucks in a grueling seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series is a date within the conference finals with the No. 1-seeded Miami Heat, starting Tuesday.

The series is a rematch of the 2020 conference finals, except then the Celtics had the upper seed and the games were at Walt Disney World — one other spring vacation destination in Florida.

Lots of the key characters are the identical. The No. 2-seeded Celtics are once more led by their top guards, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, while the Heat will counter with their top stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

But regardless that the rosters haven’t modified much, there are significant differences from two years ago. The Celtics are actually coached by Ime Udoka, who morphed Boston’s defense into the league’s best in his first season. Boston’s Grant Williams and Miami’s Tyler Herro were rookies in 2020 and have since developed into indispensable role players.

Here’s what to look out for within the Eastern Conference finals.

Yes. At the tip of Game 1, Adebayo blocked a Tatum dunk attempt that will have tied the rating in extra time. It was one of the crucial necessary blocks in N.B.A. history and it modified the trajectory of a series that Boston was favored to win. The series was close: Three of the Heat’s 4 wins were by lower than double digits.

The Heat went 53-29, their best regular-season record since 2013-14, when LeBron James was on the team they usually lost to San Antonio within the N.B.A. finals. This season provided their seventh highest win total in franchise history.

Boston finished hot on their heels. On Jan. 28, the Celtics were 25-25. Since then, including the playoffs, they’ve lost only nine times. They ended the regular season with 51 wins for a remarkable turnaround.

Each teams were strong defensively, but not as proficient offensively.

The Celtics opted to not attempt to avoid the Nets in the primary round, regardless that that meant Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — two A-list stars — would await them. It turned out they didn’t should worry. The Celtics swept the Nets, solidifying their status as a team to be feared.

Also in the primary round, Miami faced the Atlanta Hawks, who employ one in every of the N.B.A.’s best guards in Trae Young. The Hawks were hampered with injuries, and the Heat easily dispatched them in five games, partially due to a suffocating defense on Young.

Within the second round, the Celtics exchanged haymakers with the Bucks, who were missing a perennial All-Star within the injured Khris Middleton. The Celtics withstood 44 points and 20 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 6, one in every of the best playoff performances ever. Tatum countered with 46 points to hold the Celtics to Game 7, where Milwaukee ran out of gas.

Miami caught a break in its semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid, the second-place finisher within the voting for the Most Precious Player Award, missed a part of the series due to a concussion and an orbital bone fracture. The Heat took the primary two games at home. Embiid unexpectedly returned for Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia, spurring two wins for the Sixers. But Miami adjusted and took the ultimate two contests, and the series.

It’s a toss up. Miami has home-court advantage, however the Celtics were a unique team within the second half of the season.

Each teams are strikingly similar in that they employ efficient, lively, switching defenses, while occasionally combating offensive droughts. Each teams can have a welcome break from having to cope with a physically bruising center like Antetokounmpo or Embiid.

The Celtics have Tatum, who at 24 has blossomed into one of the crucial complete players within the N.B.A. He has also shown a penchant for delivering in big moments — just like the 46-point performance against the Bucks, or his 50-point showing in a first-round playoff win against the Nets last 12 months. Through the regular season, Tatum averaged 26.9 points, 8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game — all profession highs. He has also improved at creating opportunities for teammates.

The Heat have Butler, a flexible six-time All-Star. He averaged 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game in the course of the regular season. Within the postseason, Butler has been dominant, averaging 28.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 10 games.

As well as, the Heat have the 22-year-old Herro, who averaged 20.7 points a game off the bench and was named the sixth man of the 12 months. He can, from time to time, take over a game by himself. One in every of his best performances got here against Boston within the 2020 playoffs, when he scored a career-high 37 points.

Health, for one thing. The Celtics said Monday that Marcus Smart, their place to begin guard and the league’s defensive player of the 12 months, is questionable for Game 1 due to a foot sprain. The Heat’s place to begin guard, Kyle Lowry, a six-time All-Star, is unlikely to play in Game 1 due to a hamstring injury. He’s missed many of the playoffs to this point.

The Celtics’ starting center, Robert Williams III, will probably be available for Boston, an enormous boost after he had missed many of the postseason due to a knee injury. His athleticism and shot-blocking skills will probably be a needed counter to Adebayo.

The Celtics were buoyed by spurts of offense from Grant Williams, Al Horford and Payton Pritchard against the Bucks, while for the Heat, the third-year forward Max Strus has been a robust scorer within the starting lineup after mostly coming off the bench within the regular season.

Miami is slower and more methodical on offense than Boston and fewer reliant on 3-pointers. Heat guard Victor Oladipo, after missing many of the regular season recovering from an injury, has emerged as a playmaker within the postseason. He has reached double figures in scoring 4 of his eight playoff games.

The very best defensive team within the N.B.A. will limit Butler’s effectiveness. Because Butler is a weak 3-point shooter, Boston will crowd the paint and muck up Miami’s spacing. With the Williamses and Horford, Adebayo won’t find a way to roam on defense as easily.

Also, Tatum is the very best offensive player on either team.

Miami is the more physical team, and Butler won’t be fazed by the Celtics’ defense. While his defenders sag off him from the perimeter, he’s expert enough to force his way into the paint and create space for shooters like Strus and Herro.

The Celtics will rely an excessive amount of on deep 3s due to Adebayo’s strong rim protection they usually’ll have cold shooting nights. Miami has the more reliable bench with Herro and Oladipo, a two-time All-Star. And in the event that they need shooting in a pinch, they’ll dust off Duncan Robinson, who has been out and in of Miami’s rotation within the playoffs after starting 68 games within the regular season.

And if Miami doesn’t start off by winning games, Udonis Haslem, who has been on the Heat roster for the reason that Big Bang, will yell at them until they do.

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