Our experts debate these points – including a shared decision on who will win – and provide their keys to the series.
NBA schedule: Eastern finals and Game 7, Tuesday on ESPN
1. What do you watch most carefully for heat?
Tim Bontemps: Bam Adebayo has to be the best player on the pitch. In the match between these two teams in the ranking matches, Adebayo destroyed the Celtics on the inside. The way Boston coach Brad Stevens tries to combat Adebayo’s size and strength on the inside will make a chess match compelling.
André Snellings: Adebayo’s game. Jimmy Butler deserves the press he gets, but Adebayo’s new-age game is what makes Heat’s elite. Adebayo has surpassed the Bucks’ biggest frontline on both ends. Likewise, in this series he has to overcome the small Celtics frontline and be the dominant big man on the pitch.
Jorge Sedano: How Miami defends this Boston team. They certainly can’t load on Jayson Tatum like they did on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jaylen Brown is too good, and Miami is struggling to defend in point with Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn, which should allow Kemba Walker to go wild more often than he did against Toronto.
Kevin Pelton: How much area defense they play. After Miami played more zonal possessions than any other team in the NBA during the regular season, the Second Spectrum follow-up recorded no zonal possession in the playoffs. That will likely change against the Celtics, who saw a heavy dose of the Toronto Raptors zone.
Tim MacMahon: How good will Dragic be? The 34-year-old point guard started and played in the playoffs, averaging 21.1 points and 4.7 assists per game. Dragic calmed down in the conference semifinals, shooting just 38.3% from the floor in the last three games. He had scored at least 20 points in the Heat’s first six playoff games, the second longest 20-point streak of his career.
2. What are you watching more closely for the Celtics?
MacMahon: How will Daniel Theis treat Adebayo? The Celtics don’t need Theis to make big numbers, but he needs to be a solid defensive anchor, and Adebayo presents unique challenges as an elite finisher and playmaker. For what it’s worth, Theis was over-33 in three games against the Heat this season, but Miami still started Meyers Leonard in the center and Adebayo in the front power in the first two meetings.
Bontemps: Can Walker tear up Miami’s defense? Walker made his way with the Toronto defense until Raptors coach Nick Nurse applied a box-and-one. Walker’s return to All-NBA form during standings and the playoffs was a game-changer for Boston.
Celery: How Boston’s 3-point defense rivals Miami’s big 3-point offense. Miami shoots 38% on 3 in the playoffs – while Duncan Robinson hasn’t been as productive, the Miami 3’s threat is a big part of his offense. How the Celtics defend Robinson, Tyler Herro and Miami’s 3-point offense will go a long way in determining Boston’s success in this series.
Pelton: How Brad Stevens handles the possible reinstatement of Gordon Hayward’s intermediate series. If Hayward is rusty, how fast will Stevens’ hook be? And does it take Marcus Smart a few minutes after Smart’s excellent streak against Toronto?
Snellings: Smart’s game. When he does this at long range, it expands the field and allows him to use his latent leader skills to make plays for his teammates. Smart is also the leader of the perimeter defense and the emotional leader of the team, and his nervousness and ability to disrupt Butler will be key to the Celtics’ effort.
3. What is the most underrated about this series?
Celery: Pat Riley vs. Danny Ainge. The story between the two architects is juicy and dates back to when Riley coached the Lakers and Ainge played for the Celtics. It includes a scrum that broke out between their teams (Knicks and Suns) in 1993. Plus, who can forget when Ainge threw criticism at LeBron James (then a member of the Heat) and Riley responded by saying, “Danny Ainge must shut up and lead his own team. He was the biggest crybaby when he was playing, and I know that because I trained against him. ”
Bontemps: Boston arrived here without Hayward due to the ankle injury he sustained in the Celtics’ first playoff game and is expected to get him back. He’s averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists shooting 50/38/85 this season. Adding Hayward into the mix would give Boston another long and versatile player on both ends – and that would mean fewer minutes for the relatively thin Boston bench.
Snellings: The defense of Theis, who placed second in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus this season, behind only Rudy Gobert. His positioning and his hands in the post and his ability to turn and help strangle opposing drives is vital. He helped Brown limit Pascal Siakam to 38.2 FG%, and this round he will have to slow Adebayo down and limit Heat’s penetration.
MacMahon: Jae Crowder established himself as a quality NBA player in Boston, and he took it personally when the Celtics included him in Kyrie Irving’s trade. He would love to be a part of starting his old bubble team. Crowder wasn’t the headliner of the midseason trade Heat did with the Grizzlies – when Memphis ended Andre Iguodala’s bizarre saga by sending him to South Beach – but he did have an impact for Miami. Crowder’s ability to play on the power play keeps Miami on a small roster and he’s shooting 40% from 3 points in the playoffs.
Pelton: The ability of the two teams to fight for a while. Weighted by minutes played, the Celtics have the youngest rotation of any playoff team. And while the Heat’s rotation was the sixth oldest with veteran Goran Dragic replacing rookie Kendrick Nunn as a starter, the flexibility of the Miami cap and the core of young talent means the future is bright.
4. Who has the most at stake in this series?
MacMahon: No one needs to tell Butler, who turns 31 on Monday, how precious this opportunity is to him. This is the first time in Butler’s career that he has qualified for the conference final. Five-time All-Star Butler has already significantly bolstered his reputation by playing such an important role in the Heat’s success. Bringing Miami to the final would be a legendary thing.
Snellings: Tatum can confirm the jump we saw in the Toronto series. Butler is playing with house money at this point – the Heat did not enter the season as a contender. But Boston has expectations and Tatum is there. Taking his team to the final at 22 can put “Tatum” in unique territory with other superstars.
Bontemps: The Celtics, who can return to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade. It’s the third time in four years that the Celtics have come this far, but it’s the first time they should win. If they don’t, it can only be described as a disappointment.
Pelton: Would it be wrong to say the Bucks? If Boston comfortably handles Miami, it raises a lot more questions about the Heat Series win over the Bucks. If Miami makes it to the NBA Finals, on the other hand, it’s a lot easier to rationalize what happened as the product of meeting a hot team at the wrong time.
Celery: Brad Stevens. His counterpart Erik Spoelstra already has two championships as head coach. Spoelstra is certainly looking to add to his collection, but he’s more of a grown man. Stevens was named one of the game’s most innovative coaches almost upon his arrival. Coaching his team to an NBA Finals would validate the praise and give the famous franchise a chance to compete in an 18th NBA Championship.
5. Which team qualifies for the NBA Finals?
Bontemps: Boston is the better team. Miami are a tough, well-trained group led by two All-Stars in Adebayo and Butler. But Boston has Smart, arguably the best player in the league to keep Butler, and Walker and Tatum are the most explosive offensive players in the series. It will be competitive and fun to watch, but my pick is Boston in 6.
MacMahon: Heat in 6. Despite all the praise for Stevens, Spoelstra is the coach of this series who has proven he can take teams to the final.
Celery: Heat in 7. Miami rolls. Butler, Adebayo and Dragic were regular leaders, and the additions of Crowder and Iguodala at the trade deadline were huge. Miami’s sharp shot also gives him an advantage. Boston has an incredibly talented core of Tatum, Brown, Walker, Hayward and Smart, but Miami’s superior depth will prove too much.
Pelton: Celtics in 7. I still don’t have a good idea of how good Miami is, so I won’t be surprised if the Heat win this series. Still, I think the Celtics’ fleet of quality perimeter players should match Butler well and present challenges for defenders Miami was able to hide against non-threatening Bucks wings.
Snellings: Celtics in 7. Both teams are full of courage, defensive drive and heart. But the Celtics have a bit more scoring talent on the perimeter, especially if Hayward is able to come back and contribute. Adebayo and Heat have the advantage in the paint, but I expect Theis to be a factor. Tatum, Brown and Smart have just enough to claim another series victory.
MORE: Experts’ Picks For Celtics-Heat In Eastern Final