Without further ado, here is what to look for in the East Finals
between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
Miami's Defensive Matchups
Gabe Vincent —> Marcus Smart
Jimmy Butler —> Jaylen Brown
PJ Tucker —> Jayson Tatum
Max Strus —> Grant Williams
Bam Adebayo —> Al Horford
Boston's Defensive Matchups
Jayson Tatum —> Gabe Vincent
Marcus Smart —> Max Strus
Jaylen Brown —> Jimmy Butler
Al Horford —> PJ Tucker
Grant Williams —> Bam Adebayo
We saw these matchups in the most recent outing (March 30). I'd
say it's a pretty safe bet this holds to start the series.
Boston's cross-matching intrigues me more than the inverse.
Tatum taking Vincent allows him to roam a bit — unless/until
Vincent bombs away from three. Putting Smart on Strus is a great
way to take advantage of his screen navigation while eliminating
Miami's opening script on offense. The Heat tend to open things up
with movement sets to get Strus going early.
Keep an eye on the Williams-Adebayo matchup. Grant has taken on
Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in consecutive rounds, and
has done so with success. His blend of mobility and strength could
bother Adebayo, and those same traits can turn any pick-and-roll
involving Adebayo into a switch.
The Battleground: Paint Touches
At their cores, the Heat and Celtics are switchy groups. In
fact, they were the switchiest groups in the NBA
— the Celtics ranked first in on-ball switches per 100 possessions
(28.8), while the Heat ranked second (28.7), per Second Spectrum.
It will be their primary method of flattening out each other's
offenses, hoping to bring the game down into the mud.
With neither team playing drop coverage that often — the Heat
and Celtics ranked 26th and 25th in drop rate, respectively — it'll
be interesting to see who can create openings downhill.
If there's a difference between the two, it's Miami's
willingness to dial up the pressure. They'll bust out a full-court
press. They're not afraid to trap, particularly if there's only one
star on the court. The help is aggressive. That leads
to a ton of three-point attempts — the Heat ranked dead last in
three-point rate allowed — but eighth in opponent rim
The Celtics can do that stuff, but generally
don't have to thanks to their collective size and screen navigation
up top. They effectively cut off the rim (No. 2 in opponent rim
rate) and they're able to force opponents into more
mid-range shots. Only the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards
allowed a larger share of mid-range shots than the Celtics this
Can the Heat find enough cracks to get into the paint and
generate good looks from there? Can the Celtics hit enough threes —
because they will be there — to loosen things up inside? We shall
Celtics' Team Stats (and Boston's stats vs.
- Offensive Rating: 113.6 (108.6)
- True Shooting Percentage: 57.8% (56.7%)
- Assist Percentage: 60.9% (60.9%)
- Turnover Rate: 13.9% (12.2%)
- Pace: 97.26 (96.33)
- Free-Throw Attempts: 20.9 (23.3)
- Free-Throw Percentage: 81.6% (74.3%)
- Three-Point Attempts: 37.1 (40.0)
- Three-Point Percentage: 35.6% (35.8%)
- Offensive Rebounds: 9.8 (9.0)
Celtics' Play Type Breakdown
Heat's Team Stats (and Miami's stats vs.
- Offensive Rating: 113.0 (95.8)
- True Shooting Percentage: 58.4% (51.0)
- Assist Percentage: 64.4% (70.0%)
- Turnover Rate: 14.9% (19.1%)
- Pace: 96.53 (96.33)
- Free-Throw Attempts: 21.4 (18.0)
- Free-Throw Percentage: 80.8% (68.5%)
- Three-Point Attempts: 35.8 (39.7)
- Three-Point Percentage: 37.9% (32.8%)
- Offensive Rebounds: 10.5 (9.3)
Heat's Play Type Breakdown
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: EARLY OFFENSE
Lowry's absence looms large for the Heat.
He was the catalyst for their elite transition attack. His
touchdown outlet passes put pressure on opponents to get back
immediately after possessions end. Early clock pull-up threes
became a staple during his time in Toronto; much of that carried
over in Miami. Lowry converted 48.0% of his transition threes,
including a ridiculous 57.1% clip on pull-ups per Second
With him out for at least Game 1, I'd expect Miami to be even
more selective with its pushing. Expect a heavy dose of early-clock
The Celtics weren't a team that ran often either; they ranked
21st in transition frequency (14% of possessions), not too far
behind the Heat's middling mark (14.5%) per Cleaning The Glass. The
issue is they didn't come close to the Heat's efficiency when they
did push. The Heat led the NBA in transition scoring (1.33 points
per possession), while the Celtics were 26th (1.21 PPP).
Boston is more likely to feed one of its bigs early as part of
the team's Delay series. In those, Horford (or Williams III) will
receive the ball in the middle of the floor while the other Celtics
screen for each other. This is a very pindown-heavy
The tell is when their center (Horford or Williams III) gets an
early pass above the break and acts as a handoff hub. It can be as
simple as a pair of pindowns — Tatum receiving one on a side, Brown
getting one on the other — to stretch the defense thin.
The Celtics can flow into Chicago action — a pindown into a
handoff. It may be a single pindown from the wing to get one of the
Jays an early shot or, if the three isn't there, to set up an
It'll be important for the Heat to be locked in.
1) Who will win the zone battle?
Not to rehash the top, but we know how both teams want to
operate defensively. Switch just about any screen; keep the ball in
front. Shade off of (perceived) non-shooters to help cut off
driving lanes. Bring the game into the gutter.
Both teams have creation-plus-shooting combos that can bend
things if they're clicking. The Celtics may be okay giving up
mid-rangers, but that's typically where Butler wants to operate.
The Heat may be okay trading rim attempts for threes, but how safe
of a bet is that with Horford and Williams shooting a combined 21
of 47 (44.7%) on corner triples?
If either team catches a rhythm, the zone will be broken
(Quietly, the Heat weren't a good zone offense during the
regular season [0.96 PPP, 19th] either.)
As beautiful as the Heat offense looks when they're screening
and cutting all over the place, they have possessions where
ill-timed cuts can make life easier for an opposing defense. That's
exacerbated when teams go zone — you want to force a zone defender
to choose between two players, so improper spacing allows the
defense to muck things up without much work.
It's odd to watch the Heat go haywire in the middle of the
floor. When a zone is run against their second unit, you feel the
lack of playmaking with Dewayne Dedmon at the 5 in place of
Adebayo. But with the starters, you sometimes get weird bouts of
That's a darn good counter to a 2-3 zone. Butler gets right into
his comfort zone with minimal pressure and... kicks out of it?
On the flip side, this could be a real problem area for Boston
though, a team that ranked 27th in zone offense (0.9 PPP) during
the regular season per Synergy. And the Heat don't
just go zone; they go to all kinds of
A traditional 2-3, a 3-2, a 1-2-2. They'll go full-court press,
then drop into a zone. There are exotic looks, and then there's the
Miami Heat defense.
Much like the Celtics had to quickly adapt to Milwaukee's
physicality after their matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, there may
be an adjustment period when the Heat throw out their zone. Per
Second Spectrum, the Celtics have seen just five (5) zone
possessions in the postseason. You might get that in the first six
minutes of Game 1.
2) Who can beat drop coverage when
they get it?
This can be somewhat of a Tatum question considering his
struggles against the Bucks in Round 2. The numbers weren't great —
the Celtics generated a shade under 0.9 PPP on trips where Tatum
saw a drop — but the film was more key.
He'd often pass up more fruitful mid-range attempts, instead
opting to string out ball-screens and isolate against a late
switch. He's a good enough shot-maker to make that work, but it's a
tough diet to live on. And against a team like Miami, I'm not sure
how many pockets he can afford to pass up. I've written about his
lack of a floater before; per
Synergy, he's converted just 2 of his 10 runners this postseason,
and I'm not sure which number is more concerning.
But this is really a Heat question. Tyler Herro struggled
against the Celtics when faced with drop coverage. Between Smart
and Derrick White at the point of attack, Herro couldn't
consistently shake free. And even when he did, Boston did a good
job of providing help at the nail to at least make Herro
This is an obvious thing to say, but the Heat are going to need
him to get going. Aside from (this version of) Butler, Herro's
their best shot-creator in the half-court. He'll need to take
pressure off Butler, and carry some of the load when he's heading
the second unit.
Whenever Lowry is back, he'll need to channel the same
aggression from the last meeting (23 points, 16 shot attempts, 12
threes) if the Celtics drop against him. Ditto for Vincent, whose
jumper has quietly fallen off a cliff during the postseason.
3) Derrick White or Victor Oladipo?
At the risk of sounding reductive, these may be the true
X-factors of the series.
Both players offer fiesty on-ball defense across multiple
positions. Both can juice their offenses in the pick-and-roll,
particularly with their downhill chops. And both will likely be
ignored when they're stationed off the ball, adding a layer of
difficulty for their teammates to generate efficient
White hounded Herro when matched up against them, and found
enough utility as a ball-mover for the Celtics to win his minutes
+11 in 32 minutes during his lone outing vs. Miami).
Oladipo missed all of the regular-season meetings, but he'll
likely see Boston's third-best defender when sharing the court with
Miami's other creators. His rim pressure is valuable, but his
three-point shooting (27.3% this postseason) can swing things.