Is anyone really surprised that the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are meeting here in the Eastern Conference Finals? I’m not. You shouldn’t be either.
Two years ago, in the bubble, this was the ECF, in which Miami defeated Boston in six games to advance to the finals.
The big names remain the same from that series, and have continued to improve. The top four players then, are the same four now. For Boston, it’s the elite wing duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. For Miami, it’s the physical, strong one-two punch of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
There’s really one more star, who shined all throughout the 2020 NBA Playoffs, and has shined all year this season, and that’s Tyler Herro. Being named the KIA Sixth Man of the Year is a true show to the impact that Herro has had for the Heat this season.
Boston has a similar cast of role players from 2020, most of them having a different role. The most important role player on either side is Marcus Smart. The NBA Defensive Player of the Year has always been know to be one of the best defenders in the NBA, but was offensively a liability at times earlier in his career. Every season that Smart has played, his offense has improved, making him a reliable option on both ends.
Other role players that are still here for the Celtics are Grant Williams, Daniel Theis, and Robert Williams. Theis was the starting center for the 2020 Celtics, a role that he no longer holds. With the re-addition of Al Horford (who the Celtics would not be here without) and the emergence of Williams and Williams, Theis has taken a backseat.
Robert Williams has taken a major step forward, establishing himself as the starting center all season long, when healthy. Williams has been dealing with knee soreness issues from a torn meniscus suffered in late March. Williams was absent from Games 4-7 in the Milwaukee series, but the Celtics remain adamant on his condition.
Grant Williams has established himself into a P.J. Tucker type of role, except Williams is better defensively. After posting 27 points and converting 7 threes in Game 7 against Milwaukee, it is certain that the Heat will have an eye on him.
Derrick White and Payton Pritchard both were not present in 2020, along with Al Horford who was mentioned briefly earlier. These three players have all come up big throughout the 2022 Playoffs, especially when Boston needed it the most. Same is said on the Miami side of things, as they bring out a more of a different look than in 2020.
Players such as Max Strus, P.J. Tucker, Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, and Gabe Vincent all were not present in 2020, but have established themselves as key role players in getting Miami the No. 1 seed as well as getting them to the ECF. Without any one of these players, the Heat could be in a much different spot.
Outside of Butler, Adebayo, and Herro, there is only one player from the 2020 Playoffs that is still playing a role on the Heat: Duncan Robinson. Robinson’s role was much more consistent in the 2020 Playoffs, as now the locker room is much more crowded. Aside from scoring 27 points in Game One against the Hawks, Robinson has not played big minutes or a big role in any other contest.
How did each team get here?
Starting with the No. 1 seed Miami Heat, they’ve had a smooth ride to the Eastern Conference Finals. Taking care of the No. 8 seed (who were No. 9 prior to the play-in) Atlanta Hawks in five games in the first round, they set up a date with the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Heat defeated the 76ers in six games, with multiple big time performances from Jimmy Butler. After losing Games 3 and 4 on the road in Philadelphia, Miami made sure to wrap it up there in Game 6. 76ers star Joel Embiid missed games one and two with multiple injuries, giving Miami the opportunity to cruise through the first two games.
The No. 2 seed Boston Celtics had a much tougher path to get to the ECF, but they made it nonetheless. In the opening round, Boston faced off against the Brooklyn Nets, a team that no one wanted to see first round. Having Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the same team makes for a nightmare matchup, at least one would think.
Not for the Celtics, as they dismissed Brooklyn in four games, via sweep. The road only got tougher from there, as the Eastern Conference Semifinals set up a matchup with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo.
After a thrilling, hard-fought series, Boston arose victorious after seven games. The Bucks were missing All-Star Khris Middleton, which was a huge missing pice for Milwaukee. The two squads alternated wins until the Celtics were able to win Games Six and Seven after trailing three games to two. Big time performances from Tatum and Brown were expected, but the Celtics would not have advanced if it weren’t for major games from Al Horford and Grant Williams.
Who advances to the NBA Finals?
This series could go any number of directions, and will be top-tier entertainment, regardless of who wins.
Caesars Sportsbook has the Celtics listed as a -170 favorite over the +140 underdog Heat. It came as a surprise that Boston was a favorite by this margin, as the assumption was it would be much closer. It’s not a wide margin by any stretch, but it is clear that Boston is listed as the favorite.
My Prediction: Celtics in 6.
Boston has proven this postseason that they are a true force and contender that can compete, and beat, anyone in the NBA. From the beginning of 2022, the Boston Celtics have looked like the best team in the NBA, and have made it clear that they are not afraid of anyone.
Boston Head Coach Ime Udoka stated in an interview following the first round sweep of Brooklyn, “We’ve said it quite openly: We’re not running from anybody, and we’ll let the chips fall where they may. That was the message. We’re not gonna run from anybody.”
They’re showing it right now.
Miami has a load of talent, and will give Boston everything they can handle, but it simply will not be enough. This is the best Boston Celtics team since 2008, and there’s a real chance that this squad is better than that team that won the title.
Regardless, this series will be an amazing one to watch, as every game has a true potential to be down to the wire. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.