For the third time in the last four seasons, the Boston Celtics will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The previous two meetings were split one apiece with Miami winning in six during the bubble, and the Celtics beating the Heat in seven during their run to the finals last season.
The Heat dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks in six to win round one as well as the Knicks in round two, to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
While these teams are very familiar with each other, there have been some key changes to these teams in all three matchups as well.
Mainly, this is the third Celtics coach the Heat will have faced in these three Eastern Conference Finals matchups.
The Celtics and Heat faced each other four times this regular season with each team winning two games, but it is hard to take away much, as both teams were missing key players in each game.
As well as that, the Heat had Tyler Herro during each game of the regular season, and he is likely to miss the entirety of the conference finals.
The Heat also struggled in the regular season, limping to the eight seed and barely making it into the playoffs before going on this run, so it makes looking at regular season match ups difficult.
When looking at the numbers though, the Heat have been relatively the same in the playoffs as they were in the regular season.
A struggle in the regular season had the Heat dead last in points per game at 109.5, last in Field Goals made at 39.2 and 26th in FG% at 46%, all of these have increased slightly in the playoffs.
During the first two series the Heat are at 113.3PPG, 41.1 FG made and 46.9% from the field.
A big reason for this is the jump in three point percentage from the regular season to the postseason.
Throughout the 82 game season the Heat were 27th in the league at 34.4% from three, in the playoffs they are at 36.8 percent.
The Heat were second in the league in points allowed as they only gave up 109.8 points per game. In the playoffs that remains about the same as they are allowing 108.8 through the first two rounds.
As for the Celtics, they were great both offensively and defensively all season long. Their offense has continued to be great in the playoffs.
In the regular season they were fourth in points per game at 117.9, in the playoffs they are scoring 115 points per game on 48.7% from the field and 39.5% from three which leads the playoff teams.
As for the fourth ranked defense through the 82 game regular season, that has been spotty in the playoffs. In the first round Vs Atlanta they allowed 116 points per game.
They fixed that against Philly and got back to their defense first persona as they held Philly below 90 in the last two games to clinch the series.
There are three crucial matchups in this series, and the way the Heat can steal this series is by dominating two or even all three of these matchups.
As the teams are familiar with each other, we have seen a little bit of these matchups the past few years, but not enough to make a prediction on how it’ll end up going in this series.
Spo Vs Joe
The scariest thing of having a rookie coach in a playoff run, is running into one of the greatest coaches ever.
Eric Spoelstra has had the Heat as a contender for over a decade now, even when it seems like they don’t have the talent to be one.
His Xs and Os are unmatched, and he seems to push all the right buttons, whether it’s zone defense here, box and one there, whatever it takes to make the opposing offense uncomfortable.
You don’t have to look far for instances of this, as last year he pushed the Celtics to seven even though his roster was severely outmatched.
As it goes for Joe Mazzulla, it is still up in the air as to what he is, seeing as it is his first playoff run as a head coach.
He has certainly made some mistakes, and has some crutches that the general public can’t stand, but he has his team in the Eastern Conference, and for the most part has done a great job thus far.
With that being said, Spoelstra is a different kind of test. This is a matchup that we can already give to the Heat and just hope the Celtics talent does enough to overshadow the coaching disparity.
Jimmy Vs Jayson
Two of the best players in the league, it could come down to who delivers for their team more often than not.
Jayson Tatum had a decent start to the playoffs and then was brutal for most of the Philly series offensively, until putting together one of the best five quarter stretches in playoff history from the fourth quarter of game six through the entirety of game seven.
He scored 67 points in 46 minutes of game time to snatch the series from Philly and keep the Celtics title hopes alive.
Jimmy Butler on the other hand was fantastic in the round one matchup vs the Bucks putting up 38 points per game, and did more than enough to get past the Knicks on a bad ankle in round two.
The two will likely guard each other sporadically in each game, both being fantastic defenders it’ll be interesting to see who gets the best of each other.
The one who makes the other defense double or exert more resources to stop them will win the matchup and give their team a leg up in the series.
Bam Vs Bigs
With Herro out, Bam Adebayo is the only other guy that can somewhat consistently create his own offense.
On top of that, Bam is used in almost every action set the Heat run.
It’ll be important for the double big lineup to take Bam away offensively and force him to play a pick and roll role, rather than one that is attacking and scoring efficiently.
Defensively Bam is one of the best in basketball, it is Al Horford’s role to force him to space out and cover Al on the three point line, and Robert Williams role to bring him into action to pull him out onto the Jays, or just away from the rim.
The X Factor
The X Factor in this series will be a guy like Kevin Love or Caleb Martin, I say this because the double big lineup the Celtics run is so efficient defensively as it allows Rob to roam on the back line and protect the rim.
That obviously allows Heat players to sink in the corner and be open for corner threes as Rob is helping off.
The Celtics made this adjustment on Pj Tucker and forced him to beat them, he did not. They’ll do the same to Kevin Love and Caleb Martin to allow Rob to roam.
If one or both of those guys consistently hit their threes it will be tough to keep the double big out there.
For the playoffs Kevin Love is shooting 34% from three. Caleb Martin is at 39% in the playoffs and was 36% in the regular season.
Although heavy favorites, the Celtics will need to be better and way more consistent than they have been through the first two rounds if they want to beat a team as mentally tough and sound as the Miami Heat.
Game one is tonight at the Garden at 8:30pm. A big game as Miami has been successful in both series at stealing game one on the road.