Jayson Tatum, Deuce Tatum, and the Boston Celtics are headed to Miami tonight to take on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Taking a step back and looking at where we were when the season began, there were not many people that had either of these teams as their pick to make it this far. However, once the new year began it became more and more clear that the Heat are legit and their depth is second to none, and the Celtics have finally grown up and share the ball with each other on offense while being ruthless on defense.
While Deuce enjoys the weather in Miami and hits the pool, Tatum and the boys have a lot on their hands. Jimmy Butler told us after Game 5 with the Sixers that they did not care about scoring on offense. All they wanted to do is lock the Sixers down and make them as uncomfortable as possible when defending against them. There is no reason to think that the Heat will come with any different approach against the Celtics.
The Celtics have also shown they have what it takes on the defensive end. Their insane run of blowing teams out left and right at the start of 2022 was because of how they shared the ball instead of playing for themselves, and really focusing on locking down on defense. The Celtics and Bucks wrapped up their 7 game series on Sunday with a competitive first half, but the Celtics ultimately pulled away with this exact recipe in the second half.
There were times in the Bucks series that Boston did revert to their old habits under pressure. Two of Boston's losses could have largely been avoided if they continued to penetrate the paint and kept the pressure on defense. Instead, we saw poor shot selection late and lazy defending in the final minutes allowing Giannis and the Bucks to punish Boston and extend the series. In games 6 and 7 Boston really buttoned it up tight, and they cannot let a frustrating Heat team revert them back to old habits that the Celtics were ridiculed for the last couple of seasons under Brad Stevens.
For the Heat, the question is what version of Jimmy Butler will we be getting, and can Bam Adebayo get going if Robert Williams is healthy all series and Al Horford keeps up his current form. The media has joked that "Bubble Jimmy" is back because of how well Jimmy has been playing and rallying his team, and it is undeniable that he has been in peak form. This is where I want to warn readers about recency bias.
The Celtics and Sixers are two completely different sides on the defensive end, and we will see early on in this series what Jimmy's form is all about. Did Jimmy pop off because the Sixers had no answer for him? Or maybe Rachel Nichols has been traveling with the team giving him that spark. Either way, the Sixers made it look like he is truly back in that vintage form we all loved watching back in 2020, and it is up to the Celtics to show us if they can bring that to a stop.
I touched on the Heat's amazing depth in the beginning, and it will once again be tested as Kyle Lowry sits out Game 1 tonight. I still think the Celtics have what it takes to suppress Miami's superb perimeter scoring, and that Time Lord and Horford should be able to stifle Bam in the paint. The average score between the three games this season was Boston 105 - 92 Miami, with Boston going 2-1 and losing the most recent time they played on March 30th.
With how tough both teams are on defense do not be surprised when you see some low totals from Vegas on the over/under. This could also present some really solid looks at under points props as sportsbooks capitalize on novice bettors who want to bet on their favorite players over on points because "it's exciting" and "it's the NBA Playoffs." Keep these things in mind when looking for the best angles on this series.
I don't have any betting plays tonight as I want to see a few things that I highlighted above. Is Jimmy really back in form or did he just expose the Sixers? Can Boston keep things calm and settled on offense against a disruptive Heat team that is going to be annoying to go up against defensively? What does the legend Erik Spoelstra have up his sleeve for rookie head coach Ime Udoka?
My gut tells me Boston has finally grown up, and the Heat have had an easier path to the ECF than Boston. I will be going with Boston in 6 games as my official prediction, and I am looking forward to a high-intensity series with lots of defense and a lot of chippy back and forth play. Let me know what you think in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter @HHSportsHQ.