Defining the biggest obstacles Miami poses to the Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals

After another 3-2 comeback in the second round, the Boston Celtics encounter a familiar foe, Miami, for a chance at a spot in the Finals (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
After another 3-2 comeback in the second round, the Boston Celtics encounter a familiar foe, Miami, for a chance at a spot in the Finals (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

After yet another 3-2 comeback the Boston Celtics encounter the eight-seeded Miami Heat for a chance at a spot in the NBA Finals

For the third time in the last four seasons, the Boston Celtics meet up with Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat with the Eastern Conference crown on the line. Joe Mazzulla’s men were just one game away from taking on the south beach side in the first round, but due to some brilliance by Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, they avoided them. With its experience on the roster and in the coaching staff, Miami is far from an eighth seed. Some will call it a Cinderella run for the Heat, but it is without question that there is no coach better in the NBA right now at getting the most out of his players than Erik Spoelstra.

Despite being in the bottom four in three-point percentage in the regular season, the shooting talent on the roster has risen to the occasion. Behind a clinic from beyond the three-point line against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat became just the fifth eight-seed in league history to knock out a No. 1 seed in the first round of the postseason. Despite the lack of size that Miami possesses, it has found ways to create turnovers against both Milwaukee and the New York Knicks.

Spoesltra’s squad has forced over 14 turnovers per game through their first 11 games of the postseason, accumulating 7.5 steals in the process. Last season, the Cs had a 16% turnover ratio in the Conference Finals, the highest of any other team during that round. The improvements on the offensive end and in decision-making in 2023 have assisted in Boston’s ability to take care of the ball at a much higher clip. Making the right play in the halfcourt offense against a ball club that is both physical and intelligent defensively has to be one of the main focuses for Mazzulla.

No matter how many people have counted this team out throughout this run, Spoelstra and his team have come through. Even without Tyler Herro, and Victor Oladipo in the rotation, six different Heat players have averaged double-digit points through the first two playoff matchups. Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, and Caleb Martin have all taken a step forward from behind the arc compared to what they produced in the regular season. When one of them gets hot, it becomes contagious. How Boston defends the 3-pointer and what the team decides to concede to keep Butler under control is something to keep an eye on as this series unfolds.

Coming off a series against a Philadelphia 76ers team where its lack of shooting depth proved to be their downfall, the Cs meet up with a Miami squad that has the potential to be one of the most lethal shooting teams in the league. While the decision to go big at the end of the Conference Semifinals proved to be the difference, Mazzulla could revert back to smaller lineups as his team may not have as many issues keeping Miami off the glass.

Given the size disparity, especially on the wing with the Heat missing P.J. Tucker to defend Tatum, the south beach side could be enticed to go zone more often than not. In the past, Boston has struggled to beat a non-man defense, but with the amount of shooting this ball club now has 1-5, the Cs are well-equipped to beat it. Miami’s defensive strategy in the last round was centered around letting the Knicks hoist shots from beyond the arc. That is not going to work against Boston. One-on-one, the Heat are going to have problems keeping the green and white in front of them. Kevin Love, while experienced and a capable shot-maker is the obvious hole of the Miami defense.

Can the talent of the Boston Celtics overcome a well-coached competitive Miami Heat squad that has defied the odds in the first two rounds of the playoffs?

A historic Game 7 display by Jayson Tatum on the parquet floor sets up the sixth time since 2010 that these two have encountered one another in the NBA playoffs. The Heat have won three out of the five meetings with the last three going six games or more. Whether it was LeBron James’ historic Game 6 at the Garden in 2012, or Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart combining for 75 points in Game 2 last season, this rivalry has been riddled with memorable moments.

Miami will have its eyes set on revenge while the Cs have been determined since last June to reach the NBA’s pinnacle again. Chapter 6 of this historic matchup begins Wednesday in front of over 18,000 fans at the TD Garden. None of the regular season matchups matter at this point. Four wins for a right to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Only one eight-seed has booked a spot in the NBA Finals. That is not going to stop the Heat from rewriting history. There will be setbacks, challenges, and poor quarters during this ECF for Boston, but it is all about how it punches back that matters. Dealing with adversity has defined this ball club over the last few seasons, and this is another test that the Cs have to pass in order to reach the ultimate goal.

Eastern Conference Finals schedule:

Game 1: Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics, Wednesday, May 17, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

Game 2: Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics, Friday, May 19, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

Game 3: Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat, Sunday, May 21, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

Game 4: Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat, Tuesday, May 23, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

Game 5 (if necessary): Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics, Thursday, May 25, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

Game 6 (if necessary): Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat, Saturday, May 27, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

Game 7 (if necessary): Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics, Monday, May 29, 8:30 pm EST (TNT)

The winner gets either the one-seeded Denver Nuggets or the seven-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Eight more wins. The third stop to Banner 18 begins Wednesday night.

Series prediction: Boston Celtics in 6