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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Celtics Freeze Heat, Tie Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2

Even a cursory examination of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals should be enough to put to rest the notion that momentum exists in an NBA playoff series. In every game in this series, at least one team has had a lead of at least 20 points. In game one, Miami overcame a 13 point deficit to lead by 20 points before winning, 118-107. In game two, Boston won, 127-102. In game three, Miami jumped out to a 46-20 lead before winning 109-103. In game four on Monday night, the Celtics started the game with an 18-1 run, and built a 32 point lead en route to a wire to wire 102-82 victory. The Heat's one point in the game's first eight minutes is the lowest point total in that time span in a playoff game in the past 25 years. 

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with a game-high 31 points. He also had eight rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots, and a game-best +37 plus/minus number. Tatum scored 24 points in the first half. Payton Pritchard was the unlikely second leading scorer for the Celtics with 14 points, followed closely by Derrick White (who scored 13 points while starting in place of the injured Marcus Smart), Jaylen Brown (12 points on 5-20 field goal shooting), and Robert Williams III (12 points plus nine rebounds and two blocked shots). Al Horford only scored five points, but he had a game-high 13 rebounds, and his plus/minus number (+33) was second only to Tatum's. Every Boston starter grabbed at least seven rebounds, while in contrast Jimmy Butler led the Heat with seven rebounds.

The Celtics dominated the Heat despite shooting just 31-78 from the field (.397), including 8-34 (.235) from three point range. The Celtics made up for their poor shooting by controlling the boards (60-39), and by shooting 32-38 from the free throw line compared to 8-14 free throw shooting by the Heat. The Heat compounded their problems by shooting even worse from the field (.333) than the Celtics did. This game was a classic example of how valuable size is, particularly when the bigger players are also more aggressive than the smaller players; undersized and lethargic is no way to win any basketball game, let alone an Eastern Conference Finals game. 

Victor Oladipo led the Heat with 23 points off of the bench. He outscored all five of the Heat's starters combined! Since the NBA started keeping separate statistics for starters more than 50 years ago, no starting lineup in a playoff game scored fewer points than the 18 scored by Miami's starters in this game. Duncan Robinson (14 points) and Caleb Martin (12 points) had solid games off of the bench. Bam Adebayo had more fouls (four) than field goals made (three). Jimmy Butler (six points on 3-14 field goal shooting) had more missed field goals than rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots combined. 

Despite such wild game to game swings, there are a few constants that can serve as guideposts for what to expect the rest of the way: defense, rebounding, and size travel well. Those are three advantages that the Celtics enjoy. On the other hand, the Celtics must win another game in Miami, but the Heat do not have to win another game in Boston. In a series in which each team has won a road game, the Heat's homecourt advantage does not appear to matter as much as the Celtics' defense, rebounding, and size; the Celtics can win in Miami, but the Heat are not likely to defend better, rebound better, or grow. It should be noted that injuries could be the X factor, as both teams are often uncertain who will be available to play until shortly before the opening tip.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:51 AM



At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 9:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

was the game evenly officiated? FT attempts 38-14 in favor of Cs. that stat isn't conclusive, but might suggest an officiating disparity or, alternatively, difference in teams' aggressiveness on offense. I thought Tatum got a lot of calls (16 FTs was more than entire Heat team) .... maybe refs will be different -- or Heat will be more aggressive on offense -- when games are in Miami?


At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 12:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Celtics are the bigger and more aggressive team. Bigger, more aggressive teams tend to shoot more free throws. It is possible that the Heat will play more aggressively in game five in Miami.

At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 1:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right that this series will be determined by health but I am not sure you are right that Boston would be stronger at full strength. The Heat were plagued by injuries all season and still ended up with a better record than Boston. Butler missed 25 games, Lowry missed 19, Adebayo missed 26, and Herro missed 16. That's over a season's worth of games (86) missed by their four best players.

By contrast, Tatum missed just 6, Brown missed 16, Smart missed 11, and Horford missed 12, for a total of 45. Even if we add in Rob Williams' 21 it's still 20 less than the Heat's core four missed.

Yes Boston played much better in the second half of the season after trading for White but the Heat also played better when their best guys were healthy. They won at a 58 win rate when their best four players were able to play together, which would have been second only to Phoenix.

This is all academic of course since their best players were not and are not healthy and it is an unanswerable question. Butler and Lowry are both clearly less than 100% as are Smart and Williams on the other side. It's a shame as perhaps at full strength these teams would play less one-sided games against each other. It is doubly a shame for the Heat that this is looking increasingly likely to be their second deep run derailed by unlucky health in the last three years. Breaks of the game I suppose.

I do think sometimes we underrate teams a little based on their records without factoring in availability that shaped those records. For instance lots of commentators thought Golden State was a pretty standard three or four seed but forgot that Curry, Green, and Thompson missed a combined 104 games which certainly depressed their record at least a little bit and likely quite a bit. Even ignoring Thompson just with Curry and Green healthy they went 29-7 which is a 66 win clip over nearly half of the season and about the same clip that they have been winning at so far in the playoffs, even without the benefit of playing half their games against irrelevant Sacramento/Orland type teams. That also means they won at just a 43 win pace when one or both of Green or Curry were missing. With even average health it feels likely they would have been competing with Phoenix for the best record in the league and their relative dominance in the Western bracket with a mostly healthy lineup speaks to that.

At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 3:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My assessment is based on the Celtics' team from the second half of the season arguably being the best team in the league, not just the Eastern Conference. I thought that "playoff Milwaukee" might be the only team that could beat the Celtics, but then Middleton got hurt and missed the entire series. Even one or two games of 75% Middleton might have been enough for the Bucks to win; the Bucks just looked worn out and unable to score by the end of the series.

I knew that the Warriors were not a standard third or fourth seed, but I thought that a healthy Memphis team would be a bad matchup for them. Then, Adams missed the start of the series and Morant missed the end of the series. The Warriors are better than I thought, but they have also had a favorable draw with injured Denver, injured Memphis, and now overachieving Dallas instead of top seed Phoenix. Dallas blew a golden opportunity by squandering a big lead, and that may have turned an otherwise potentially close series into a sweep.

In the end, though, the Warriors deserve credit for staying healthy and taking care of business. I think that a relatively healthy Boston or Miami would beat the Warriors, but by the time the Warriors rest up while the Celtics and Heat keep bludgeoning each other we may not get to see that series.

At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 4:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kind of agree but Denver was hurt all year and their record reflected the version of the team the Warriors played, so they played a "normal" six seed. If Denver had Porter and Murray they'd be a lot harder to beat but they'd also have been a Top 4 seed and GSW would have gotten either Dallas or Utah in the first round, which are two teams pretty comparable or worse to Denver without those two guys.

Morant getting hurt was something of a lucky break for them but to their credit they went 2-1 against Morant including winning one on his home court and blowing him out on theirs so I'm not comfortable saying his absence swung the series. Road teams that win Game 1 on the road usually finish, especially when they get up to a 2-1 lead. An alternate argument could also be made that Gary Payton missing Game 2 empowered Ja's explosion by switching lesser defenders onto him and the Grizzlies would have been down 2-0 headed back to GSW if not for a fluke injury on the other side, so I can't give them too much rope as a "for want of a nail" kind of team.

I kind of agree that it is fortunate for Golden State to avoid Phoenix but I also think they match up well with Phoenix and it's not like Chris Paul would be less worn down in the WCF than he was in the semis. Phoenix might take them six games instead of four but I don't think Phoenix was well-equipped to beat Golden State on either end and I also think their underwhelming bench would have been in real trouble against the Poole/Porter combination that has been so strong for GSW.

I do not know if 2022 GSW is as good as 2015 GSW because 2015 finished the job and 2022 may not, but FWIW in 2022, assuming they take care of business tonight, they will have gotten through the first three rounds of the playoffs with only three losses which is the same as that 2015 team and less than all but one of GSW's previous teams (2017) and is not something that teams usually accomplish by fluke. I would also say they have played tougher teams this run than they did in most (not all) of those runs. Every team they've beaten so far would scare me more than the Harden and Lillard teams they used to beat up on.

Obviously a team with Kevin Durant is better than the same team without Kevin Durant but plenty of teams and at least one other Warriors team are good enough to win a title even without Kevin Durant and this one may be too.

At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 4:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make a good point about Denver suffering injuries all season long and thus being a "normal" sixth seed.

Memphis did well against GS during the regular season and had the better overall record. Between injuries and suspensions, the Grizzlies "traded" Morant and Brooks for Payton, which is a good "deal" for the Warriors. Adams' absence early in the series also hurt the Grizzlies, because the Warriors are impacted by size (as are most teams).

Last year, the Suns overcame Paul's tendency to wear down (at least until the Finals), so they fooled me a bit this season because I thought that they could at least make it back to the WCF.

Yes, there are plenty of teams without Durant that were/are good enough to win, but I suspect that if this Warriors team wins without Durant we will hear a lot of nonsense about how Durant was not the best player on the 2017 and 2018 teams. I have nothing against the Warriors, but that nonsense narrative--like all nonsense narratives--irritates me very much.

At Tuesday, May 24, 2022 9:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

G1, Heat had more FTs 34-32; G2 basically even Cs 23-22; then switched 30-14 Cs G3


At Wednesday, May 25, 2022 5:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

based on those FT stats (G1, Heat had more FTs 34-32; G2 basically even Cs 23-22; then switched 30-14 Cs G3 and Cs big in G4), it seems that FTs correlate somewhat to home court for whatever reason (officiating and/or Miami aggressiveness level). will be interesting to see if that holds true tonight.


At Wednesday, May 25, 2022 8:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is not unusual that the home team is more aggressive and thus attempts more free throws than the visiting team.


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