Whilst the pesky Denver Nuggets continue to battle and delay the beginning of the Western Conference Finals, NBA fans can still look forward to what should be an intriguing Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.
After both recording comfortable 4-0 series victories in the first round of the playoffs, the two teams come into this series under vastly different circumstances. The Heat comfortably accounted for the number one seeded Bucks in five games, whilst the Celtics were forced to overcome the plucky Raptors in seven after game six had gone to double overtime.
Key Matchup: Jayson Tatum v Jimmy Butler
The result of the series could simply come down to which of the teams opposing stars produces greater influence. Butler, the ten-year veteran, continues to defy critics who laughed at the proposition of him leading a team to this stage of the playoffs. Tatum, on the other hand, has prospered and blossomed into a star of the now and a superstar of the future in just his third season.
Although Butler has shown the ability to produce massive offensive games, the Heat have also shown the capacity to win games without the need for their main man to drop 25+ points. Therefore the interest in this battle lies squarely at the Celtics end of the floor, and how the Heat can combat the effectiveness of Tatum. In Butler and former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Miami have two bona fide, elite perimeter defenders capable of limiting Tatum’s output.
Key Question Marks
Boston – Kemba Walker
The first year Celtic was fortunate his side got over the line against Toronto, otherwise he may have been facing the same kind of scrutiny that’s since fallen on Raptors’ star Pascal Siakam. Walker scored just 19 total points in over 95 minutes of game time across games six and seven, shooting just 27% from three for the series.
A big free agency acquisition prior to the season, Walker needs to turnaround his form slump and in doing so, make sure the load doesn’t fall too heavily upon his younger teammates.
Miami Heat – The Young Talent
Although the likes of Tatum and Jaylen Brown are still just forging their careers, they’ve already been here and experienced these moments before. The same can’t be said for much of Miami’s squad and particularly their younger players. Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have all been vital to Miami’s meteoric rise this season and will again be crucial in their hopes of taking down the Celtics. But how do they handle the occasion of a Conference Finals?
This seems like a genuine flip of the coin in what is bound to be an incredibly close, hard fought series. The Celtics are the more talented team on paper, even with news that Gordon Hayward will miss game one as he continues to recover from an ankle injury suffered in their first round series against the 76ers.
Although both coaches are widely recognized as two of the best in the league, the Heat probably have the edge here as Erik Spoelstra is the more experienced, whilst question marks still linger on whether Brad Stevens is an NBA championship winning coach.
So do you back talent or system? You simply can’t ignore the Celtics tougher road to get to this position, a factor that may become important late in games, particular in a game six or seven as it’s expected to go.
Heat to win 4-3
Best Bet: Heat to win series @ $2.15