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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Boston Versus Miami Preview

Eastern Conference Finals

#2 Boston (57-25) vs. #8 Miami (44-38)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Miami can win if…Jimmy Butler is by far the best player in the series, and if the Heat not only slow down the Celtics' multiple playmakers but also find a way to generate more offense than they did during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Butler averaged 24.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 6.0 apg as the Heat beat the New York Knicks in six games in the second round. Overall, Butler is averaging 31.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 5.4 apg in the 2023 playoffs.

Bam Adebayo is putting up his usual numbers--18.7 ppg and 9.7 rpg versus the Knicks, 18.1 ppg and 9.2 rpg overall during the playoffs. Adebayo plays more like a forward, but the Heat use him as an undersized center.

The Heat have survived in the playoffs without the injured Tyler Herro--their third leading scorer during the regular season (20.1 ppg)--by receiving timely contributions from a host of players, including Gabe Vincent (11.5 ppg, 4.8 apg during the playoffs), Max Strus (10.9 ppg), Caleb Martin (10.8 ppg), and Kyle Lowry (10.1 ppg, 4.5 apg). Former All-Star Lowry has thrived coming off of the bench and keeping the second unit organized.

Boston will win because…the Celtics have more top level talent, more depth, and more elite round (Conference Finals and NBA Finals) playoff experience. This series will be competitive and hard fought, but the Celtics have the superior team. The Heat's first two playoff opponents did not exploit the Heat's lack of size and lack of offensive firepower, but the Celtics are well-equipped to take advantage of those weaknesses.

In a 112-88 win versus Philadelphia to eliminate the 76ers, Jayson Tatum broke Stephen Curry's recently set game seven record by scoring 51 points. Tatum is averaging 28.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, and 5.2 apg in the 2023 playoffs. The word "superstar" is thrown around too casually, but Tatum has earned that designation not only by being a consistently high level regular season performer but by repeatedly coming up big in the playoffs to lead the Celtics to back to back Conference Finals appearances and four Conference Finals appearances in the past six seasons.

Jaylen Brown is the perfect complement to Tatum. Brown scores, rebounds, passes, and defends. He does not do any of those things quite as well as Tatum, but he does all of those things at an All-Star--if not All-NBA--level. 

Al Horford and Robert Williams are formidable paint defenders who play differently. Horford relies on size, guile, and technique. Williams possesses those qualities to some extent, but his best attribute is his tremendous athleticism.

Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is an asset at both ends of the court, as is Derrick White. Marcus Smart won the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year award, and he can provide timely scoring.

Other things to consider: The Celtics have now reached the Eastern Conference Finals five times in the past seven years, and this is the second year in a row that they are facing the Heat in this round. In my preview of last year's Boston-Miami series, I discussed the historical significance of a star or duo leading a team to at least four Conference Finals appearances:

A star player or star duo leading a team to at least four Conference Finals will likely be remembered decades later, particularly if that team wins at least one championship during that run. In my time following the NBA, such teams include Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers (seven Conference Finals appearances, one NBA championship--including two CF appearances and one NBA championship playing alongside Moses Malone), Larry Bird's Boston Celtics (eight CF appearances, three NBA championships), the Magic-Kareem L.A. Lakers (10 CF appearances, five NBA championships--including one CF appearance after Kareem retired), Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons (five CF appearances, two NBA championships), the Jordan-Pippen Chicago Bulls (eight CF appearances, six NBA championships), the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (five CF appearances, three NBA championships; Kobe then made three CF appearances and won two NBA championships without Shaq), the ensemble Pistons (six CF appearances, one NBA championship), the James-Wade Heat (four CF appearances, two NBA championships), the James Cavaliers (four CF appearances, one NBA championship; James also made two CF appearances in his first tour of duty with the Cavaliers), and the ensemble Warriors (six CF appearances, three NBA championships--including three CF appearances and two NBA championships with Kevin Durant leading the team).

Much of what I wrote in this section in my preview of the Boston-Miami matchup in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals still applies. Although the Heat were not great defensively during the 2023 regular season and their overall 2023 defensive numbers in the playoffs are not great, they showed versus both Milwaukee and New York in the first two rounds of the 2023 playoffs that they can get key stops. The Heat remain mediocre offensively like they were last season, and size still bothers them. The Heat pushed the Celtics to seven games last season and the seventh game was close, but the Celtics led wire to wire en route to a 100-96 win.

Boston will win in six games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:32 PM



At Monday, May 15, 2023 11:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

factors you didn't address:

Mia advantage in coaching (Spo)

C's inconsistency (bailed out in Sixers series only when Sixers couldn't shoot on their home floor in G6)

At Tuesday, May 16, 2023 12:52:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

to anon

if anyone writes that team "couldn't shoot" it seems as the problem is that team, defence of opposing team is neglected more often than not, which is ridiculous. They were not shooting in empty gym.

At Tuesday, May 16, 2023 11:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have mentioned Spoelstra's excellent coaching before, including in previous series previews this season. For this series, I think that the greatness of Tatum, Brown, and their supporting cast will be too much for Spoelstra to overcome. I also think that Mazzulla, though not as good of a coach as Spoelstra, is a bit underrated.

I think that the Celtics' "inconsistency" is a bit overstated. When have the Celtics lost a series to a clearly inferior team? No team has ever gone through the playoffs 16-0 (or 15-0 or 12-0 in earlier formats).

Regarding missed shots, and as Beep noted, missed shots are caused both by the shooters and also by the defensive players. The Celtics had something to do with all of those missed shots, but I would say that Embiid and Harden should be able to do more in big games considering the accolades that they have received and the money that they are paid. It is painfully evident that, as I mentioned in my game seven recap, they don't have a "game" (effective moves and countermoves) when it matters most.

At Thursday, May 18, 2023 7:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying things Beep. I always thought Steph curry, Ray Allen, and Reggie Miller were great shooters, but now I understand they just lucked out in playing against weak Ds. And just the same, I thought Harden melted down in the postseason with frequent concert tours, without understanding he always plays difficult Ds. Very enlightening. And that explains why the Cs shut down Jimmy B so effectively last night -- turning him into James Harden 2.0 -- right?

Just like how Pete Sampras was a mediocre server who always had the good fortune of playing players with weak return of serve, so he could amass all those aces. And how Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus feasted on easy courses while all the other players had to play challenging courses. All these years of my having "ridiculous" misconceptions are now corrected!


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