NBA 2020 playoffs: 10 key questions ahead of the Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference final showdown


The Boston Celtics cringed through the Toronto Raptors in seven games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Miami Heat only needed five to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks. Both teams are stingy and switchable defensively, and both are offended by various sources. The third-seeded Celtics are widely regarded as the favorites, but the Heat are anything but a typical No.5 seed. Here are 10 questions to preview the series, which begins on Tuesday:

1. Can the Celtics handle the Miami zone?

Boston didn’t get past the Raptors due to their offense, which seemed particularly out of place compared to area coverage. The box-and-one made it difficult for Kemba Walker to find his rhythm performing pick-and-rolls and for Boston to generate shots the same way they usually do. Miami knows it, and they’ve played more zonal than any other NBA team this season.

Maybe the second round prepared the Celtics for what is to come. They were in problem-solving mode the entire time and their coaching staff will make sure they won’t be surprised if the Heat start the first game in a 2-3 zone. It’s also possible, however, that zoning is simply an effective way to tackle the best thing Boston does when it has possession of the ball: give it to Walker and set up screens for him.

One thing that could make an area less tenable is having another playmaker and another shooter in the lineup, which brings us to …

2. What’s up with Hayward?

Gordon Hayward went through a small group workout after practice on Monday and “looked good when he did it,” coach Brad Stevens said, “but there is a big difference between doing that and actually getting into a match. He won’t play in Game 1, but if he’s available after that and can get close to his regular season game, he can change the feel of the Celtics’ offense.

Hayward had a use rate of just 20.6% this season, but that drastically implies his skill and importance in a series like this. What makes Boston unique is that, at full strength, it can create matchup issues with four perimeter players, making it difficult for the defenses to focus on one or hide one. weak defender. Hayward is just as comfortable creating pieces for others as he is for himself, which cannot be said about Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, so his presence naturally gives more pop to the offensive.

3. How will the Celtics compete against each other defensively?

The luxury of starting four multi-position defenders is that Stevens has all kinds of options. I’m most interested in who’s on Goran Dragic and who’s on Bam Adebayo at the start of the first game.

All-Defense first-team guard Marcus Smart is the obvious choice to slow down Dragic, who was one of the league’s best reserves in the regular season and has been a phenomenal start in the playoffs, a huge driver of Miami’s success. in attack. Tatum is an intriguing alternative, however, and might be able to disrupt Dragic’s pace with his length – he and Brown both spent a lot of time guarding Raptors guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet in the second round (and will attract probably both Jimmy Butler. homework).

Daniel Theis appears to be the default match for Adebayo, but I bet Boston gets creative at some point in the series. If Stevens is experimenting with Brown or even Smart on him, you can expect Adebayo to attempt his way to the rim and reach the free throw line. In this scenario, however, the big man is often the one called out for the fault. Which brings us to …

4. Can the Celtics run the Bam business?

The Heat get an incredible amount of mileage thanks to Adebayo doing things opposing teams don’t see too often. On offense, he’s a total nutcase, a sort of hybrid of Draymond Green and Domantas Sabonis, unconventional All-Stars in their own right, but with a lot more speed and explosiveness than either.

Adebayo will push the ball out of defensive rebounds and find Heat’s easy buckets out of dribble-transfers. When he has the ball to his elbow, Miami confuses defenses in much the same way the Golden State Warriors do, with screens and cuts that often end with Adebayo winning an assist – and if he feels you are playing him for the pass it will. luckily attacking the basket itself. Boston knows all about his chemistry with Duncan Robinson, and if he decides to hide Theis elsewhere, it’s likely in an attempt to rock when the two are involved in some action.

5. Is game hunting the solution against the Heat?

The Celtics’ offensive approach could be completely different from what it was in the second round. “Isolation is not the answer,” Stevens said two weeks ago, but it could be now. While the Heat can be a devastating defensive team, they have a few weak individual defenders in their rotation. The Indiana Pacers were at their best in the first round when they took on Dragic, Robinson and Tyler Herro one-on-one. Miami can counter that by giving Andre Iguodala and Derrick Jones Jr. more minutes, but that would mean sacrificing spacing on the other end.

Boston seems particularly suited to exploiting the Heat here, especially when they switch gears. In these playoffs, the Celtics have been much more of a pick-and-roll team and have had little success in isolation, but championship contenders need to be able to play in different ways against different opponents. This game reminds me of their second-round streak two years ago, in which they repeatedly targeted Philadelphia 76ers JJ Redick, Dario Saric, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.

6. Will the heat stay as hot at depth?

Miami changed fundamentally by replacing Meyers Leonard with Jae Crowder and recovering Herro from injury. Prior to Crowder’s Feb. 9 debut, Miami was ninth in 3-point frequency and second in accuracy, according to Cleaning The Glass. In ranking games, with Herro in good health, only the Houston Rockets shot 3 more often, but his percentage fell to 35%, which is around the league average. In the playoffs, the Heat had the best of both worlds: 41.9% of their shots were threes and they did 38.5%. The two brands are ranked fourth.

Miami will be hard to stop if Crowder, a former Celtic, continues to shoot 40% on 8.3 attempts per game. Boston’s opponents usually take a lot of 3’s but make a small percentage; in the second round, Toronto shot 30 percent or less in its four losses.

7. Can Herro continue like this?

Herro made 40% of his 3 in the playoffs, but that doesn’t tell the story. He does them in record time, he makes them out of the dribble and, more importantly, he won the trust of coach Erik Spoesltra as a playmaker. In a classification game against the Phoenix Suns, he won. collected 25 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds; in the clincher against the Bucks, he had 14 points, six assists and eight rebounds.

The Celtics, with their army of wing defenders, are Herro’s biggest challenge to date. I could see them trying to get him out by putting Smart on him.

8. Can Boston defend without committing a foul?

Butler hit the line nine times per game in the regular season, and that number has risen to 10.7 in the playoffs. Dragic and Adebayo can wreak havoc that way too, and the Heat have led the league in free throw rate in the regular season (and are second in the playoffs). That’s something to watch out for, especially as the Celtics were 24th in defensive free throw rate and are physical both on the perimeter and in the paint.

When Boston is at fault, the culprit is often Theis. Grant Williams, who finished Game 7 against Toronto at center, also tends to pick up fouls on the inside. Which brings us to …

9. What is the Celtics’ frontcourt rotation?

When Adebayo was off the field, Miami either had Kelly Olynyk in her place or left without a big man. In this regard, Boston is less predictable – if Stevens wants vertical spacing and shot blocking, he can bring in Robert Williams; if he wants switchability and sound rotations, he can go with Grant Williams; if he wants an offensive rebound and a post-up score, he can try Enes Kanter. I wouldn’t even be shocked to see Semi Ojeleye get a few minutes at 5 against Adebayo.

Theis usually plays 25-30 minutes per game, but he got 47 in double overtime in Game 6. If Stevens is looking for an offensive punch, he could go with Robert Williams or Kanter when Theis goes to the bench. . They both leave Boston vulnerable to pick-and-rolls from Miami, so I suspect there will be an opportunity here for either Grant Williams or Ojeleye, both officially rated at 6’6, to play ‘center’. .

10. How will Miami face defensively?

If the Heat chooses not to use a ton of zone, there are several small questions here:

  • If Hayward starts, where are Dragic and Robinson hiding?
  • How will they use Adebayo?
  • How many changes are they going to make?
  • Who keeps Tatum?

Boston could take Hayward off the bench, at least initially, but if he starts (and is effective) then Miami could consider removing Robinson or Dragic from the starting lineup for Iguodala. It makes sense to put Adebayo on Theis because he can change Walker’s ball screens and move around as an assist defender otherwise, but if Tatum goes, Spoelstra could throw Adebayo at him.

After keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo, Crowder could draw the Tatum mission. Butler, however, might be more suited for this. These showdowns might not matter that much, however, if Spoelstra decided to change everything.


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