The Miami Heat were not expected to reach this far prior to the season, but Jimmy Butler and company clearly have other plans in mind.
The same can’t be said of the Boston Celtics, who were primed as among the frontrunners to win the Eastern Conference, and just showed a lot of heart in a grueling seven game series as they knocked out the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Which team will draw first blood in this series? Catch Game 1 live tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM, Manila time.
HOME TEAM: #3 Boston Celtics (0-0)
After a heart-stopping win in Game 7 of their second-round series against the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics reserved their seats in the conference finals, where they’ll meet a team they’ve beaten twice before the playoffs. The Celtics defeated Miami, 112-93 at home back in December and in South Beach last January to the tune of a 109-101 score.
Boston’s success can easily be attributed to the offense of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker, but it’s arguably the team’s defense that’s more responsible for the Celtics’ ticket to the conference finals. The Celtics have the best scoring defense in the playoffs, allowing just 100.0 points per game over the last two rounds.
No Celtic personifies Boston’s quality of cutthroat defense than Marcus Smart, whom his team relies on to defend anyone from guards to centers. Smart’s value for Boston gets magnified by the fact that he’s got a higher net rating (10.3) than Tatum (9.9), so far this postseason. Smart, Tatum, and Brown should slow down the production of Jimmy Butler and the Heat’s perimeter players. Take note that the Celtics are also holding opposing teams down to just 30.5 3FG% in the playoffs.
ROAD TEAM: #5 Miami Heat (0-0)
It’s amazing how the Heat have gotten this far, and don’t tell Jimmy Butler that Miami can’t go deeper. Their confidence is oozing right now after taking the Milwaukee Bucks to the woodshed and eliminating the overall top seed in just five games.
Butler is leading the Heat in the playoffs with 21.8 points per game, but aside from the tangible factors, his leadership and no-nonsense approach to the game are having a positive impact on the team. Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala are also providing Miami with excellent veteran presence, while the young guns in Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn are playing like they’ve been to the playoffs several times before.
There’s also Bam Adebayo, whose size and mobility gave Milwaukee lots of headaches. Outside of Robert Williams, Boston doesn’t have a big man who’s on the same level of Adebayo’s athleticism and effectiveness on both ends of the floor, so the former Kentucky Wildcats could have his way again in this series. Adebayo had 21 points and 12 rebounds in Miami’s 112-106 win in the bubble last month.
The Celtics had success dealing with Toronto’s outside shooting in the previous round, but Miami is another incredible outside-shooting team, and they have a clear go-to guy in Butler. With their shots falling from deep and Butler taking advantage of a looser Boston defense, the Heat are going to win Game 1, 109-104.