This year’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup should be a rough, rugged, defensive series that will most likely come down to game seven. The Heat and Celtics are pretty evenly matched and familiar, having faced off in the ECF just two years ago. This will be the third meeting for the Heat and Celtics in the conference finals. Miami won the previous two ECF series.
Miami and Boston face off in the ECF for the second time in three years starting Wednesday. These teams finished first and second in the east this year and will now take part in a battle for the right to represent the eastern conference in the NBA Finals. I didn’t see many people picking this as the matchup in the east. I had Miami making it this far but not Boston. Like many people, I figured Giannis would be enough to get Milwaukee past Boston, but that wasn’t nearly the case.
If you’re only a fan of offense, scores regularly in the 130s, and Olé defense, this might not be the series for you. Boston and Miami are two of the premier defenses in the NBA. There won’t be many guys on the court for either team that we consider defensive liabilities. These teams are ranked second (Miami) and third (Boston) in NBA defensive rating this postseason through eleven games.
But don’t worry, this won’t be exclusively about the defense. I mean, somebody has to score points, and this series will have plenty of guys to fill it up. Boston will go as far as their young star Jayson Tatum can take them. Tatum dropped 46 against the Bucks in Game 6 of the semi-finals to keep Boston alive. He’ll have backup on offense in Jalen Brown, Marcus Smart, and the others. The Celtics have several two-way players that can defend for 24 seconds on one end, then get hot and go for 20 on offense.
The Heat is more of a collective as they don’t have that one all-around superstar caliber player. Oh, wait. I almost forgot about playoff Jimmy. Jimmy Butler, aka Jimmy Buckets. Whatever you call him, he might not perform like it in the regular season, but Butler scores like a top-five player in the playoffs.
Butler’s averaging 28.7 points per game during the postseason and only posted 21.4 in the regular season. Jimmy ranked 29th in scoring in the regular season but has jumped up to fourth in the playoffs. And when his shot isn’t falling, Butler will do the other things like defending, distributing, rebounding, and continue to be an overall leader for the Heat. Don’t forget about Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, P.J. Tucker, and the rest of their supporting cast.
The head coaches in this matchup are both Portland, OR products and very familiar with one another. Erik Spoelstra and Ime Udoka played high school and college hoops in the Portland area in the 1990s. Both coaches can easily go nine players deep into their rotations and have incredibly disciplined teams with high basketball IQs.
“I watched (Spoelstra) growing up at the University of Portland, him and Damon Stoudamire playing Pro-Am games in the summer. So, I watched him since I was a kid,” Udoka said. “He was high school teammates with Damon’s cousin, so I know all about Erik.”
During the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals, Spoelstra and Udoka crossed paths battling on opposite sides. Spoelstra was the young head coach of the Heat, and Udoka was an assistant for Gregg Popovich on the San Antonio Spurs bench. Years later, the two coached as assistants for Popovich in the 2020 Summer Olympics. So, there seems to be a healthy level of respect between these coaches.
Boston took the regular-season series 2-1 over Miami. Butler, Lowry, and Tucker were absent in a 122-92 loss in their second meeting of the season. The Heat took the most recent game on March 30, 106-98. I look for this seven-game series to be just that. Regardless of who wins, I see this series going the distance. The team that can limit the offensive mistakes and keeps the turnovers down is who wins this series. I’m taking the Heat to prevail and win a close series making it back to the NBA Finals.