Tonight will be the start of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals with the Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics. The last time these two met in the playoffs was in 2012. This conference rivalry has become dormant but will be revived on the biggest stage. Still, only one of these teams will come out on top. Before the matchup tips off tonight here’s a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals:
The Tale of the Tape
In the regular season, the Celtics lead the series 2-1. However, the Heat won its recent matchup in the bubble on August 4. The trilogy of games has led to high scoring duels with neither team ending up with less than 90 points on the night. Both teams share similar traits such as multiple All-Stars and top offenses. Boston ended the season third in the conference with Miami two spots back. So how are the teams performing in the postseason?
Boston got off to a fast start in the playoffs, sweeping the Philadelphia Sixers in the first round. In contrast, their next series became a dog fight. Going up against the defending champs, Toronto Raptors, was the epitome of a team with a no-quit attitude.
The Celtics would take a quick 2-0 lead, but the Raptors fought back and won two straight of their own. Ultimately, each team would trade games which led to an epic game seven showdown. In the end, the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led Boston to a 92-87 series-clinching win. Boston will look to clinch its first NBA finals appearance in a decade (2010).
Keys to Winning Series
With their counterparts being well-rested, they will need to handle business and win the first game. Boston has shown that they are battle-tested and can win in the grind it out series. Head Coach Brad Stevens should instill confidence in his team for beating the defending champs. This should be used as an advantage tonight.
Stevens is coaching in his second conference finals with the Celtics. His team in 2018 became very close to making the NBA finals but ended up falling short to Cleveland. Now with a new team with the same young core from two years ago, he looks to seal the deal.
Jayson Tautm and Jaylen Brown have shown that they can play with the best of them in the playoffs.When both are on at the same time, they’re hard to stop.
Including the addition of All-Star Kemba Walker this year, it makes them even more deadly. A veteran point guard that can make big shots late in the game could be the missing link. Boston’s new big three will show out, but will need support from their supporting cast. With Gordon Hayward‘s timetable of return uncertain, their bench play will be pivotal. Marcus Smart will need to be their best player coming off the bench.
His all-around game will be needed especially during rough stints on either side of the ball. Look for Enes Kanter, Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wanamaker to receive solid minutes as well. As long as the Celtics can keep their efficiency up on the offensive end (4th in NBA), they’ll win this series.
Before the playoffs began, the Heat seemed they were not in playoff mode at the start of the bubble games. They ended the regular season with a 3-5 record, while losing to their upcoming playoff opponents Indiana and Milwaukee. Nevertheless, Miami somehow flipped the switch and went on a rampage in the postseason.
The Heat went on a seven-game winning streak, which they swept the Pacers and gained a 3-0 series lead against the Bucks. Although their winning streak ended in an overtime loss in game four, they clinched the semifinals in five. The Heat will look to continue their impressive run to clinch the NBA Finals this season.
Keys to Winning Series
The Miami Heat are starting this playoff matchup with a week of rest since their last game. Most of the time, these teams come into their next game energized and ready to play. Especially with their counterparts just finishing play Friday, rest could be the difference the Heat need to win game one.
Coaching will be an advantage that Miami will need to utilize. Head Coach Erik Spoelstra will be coaching in the fifth conference finals of his career tonight.
If he wins, this will also lead to his fifth NBA Finals appearance as well. Spoelstra during the playoffs has shown he can get the most out of all his players to win tough games. He knows what it takes to win these kinds of series and his performance will be just as important as his players.
All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will have to set the tone this series from the jump ball. Their prowess on the defensive end will lead to easier offensive buckets in the transition. Guards Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn can make shots efficiently that could decimate or strengthen leads as well. If they can contain the Celtics superstars as well as they have so far with other opponents, the series could lean their way.
Miami’s bench play has been effective through the playoffs as well. Guards Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson both can score quickly with little minutes. In addition, forwards Jae Crowder and Andre Igoudala can play solid minutes while guarding almost any position on the floor. Their bench is deeper than Boston’s, so this will definitely be an x-factor as time goes by.
This will be a pretty close series from start to end. Both teams are young and hungry for the chance to be one step closer to the ultimate achievement. No matter if the games are shootouts or defensive battles, expect each game to go down to the wire. There are many clutch players on each side who can make big plays during crunch time.
In the end, this matchup will either go to six or seven games. The oddsmakers are giving the Celtics the edge, but not by very much. It is Boston’s series to lose.