The Miami Heat made surprisingly quick work of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Boston Celtics took care of business in more dramatic fashion against the Toronto Raptors. These teams will now battle in the Eastern Conference championship series. BetAnySports patrons will have an interesting choice for Game 1, which is slated for Tuesday at 6:30 PM ET at the ESPN Wide of Sports complex.
Miami has had a six-day break after defeating Milwaukee, which may have been a bit handicapped by an injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but were clearly outplayed. The Heat has really done the job on the defensive end; of the 16 teams who made it into the playoffs, they have the fourth-best defensive rating.
This has not been an accident, as they have made a lineup change with defense in mind. They took out seven-foot Meyers Leonard and inserted Jae Crowder (former Celtic). This made them quicker to get out and defend the three-pointer, and with Crowder, they have not been hurt on the offensive end; in fact, Crowder shot more three-pointers than anyone else in the series against Milwaukee, hitting 22 of 51 (43%).
Another lineup change that was made upon the team entering the bubble involved putting Goran Dragic back into the starting lineup as a point guard. He had actually been getting comfortable as the sixth man, but rookie Kendrick Nunn, who was late to the Orlando-area complex, had too much catching up to do, and coach Erik Spoelstra had to pull the trigger. Dragic has responded by averaging 21.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the playoffs. And the combination of him, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo has posted a +59 plus-minus figure in just 188 minutes in the post-season, after registering that same figure in 475 minutes during the regular campaign.
In the NBA playoff betting odds posted at BetAnySports, the Celtics are favored in Game 1:
Boston Celtics -1.5
Miami Heat +1.5
Over 209.5 points -110
Under 209.5 points -110
The Celtics are also listed at -130 to win the series, with the Heat at +110.
Boston presents a challenge for the Heat’s defensive scheme, which relies more on man-on-man coverage than a zone, because there is so much scoring balance. including three players (Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown) who tallied more than 20 points per game. And like Miami, they don’t have one player who dominates the ball; no one, for instance, has a Usage rate higher than 28%.
But the Celtics did not shoot all that well against Toronto. Tatum, Brown, Walker and Marcus Smart were all under 43% in the series. Triples constituted 44.7% of their field goal attempts, and they were just 33.7% from beyond the arc. And let’s keep in mind that Miami has redesigned its defensive approach to jump around and switch, with multiple players able to guard multiple positions, making them, in the words of Adebayo, “more dynamic.” Unlike the Bucks, who let opponents shoot threes at will, the Heat has been very good at preventing attempts from downtown – fewer than any other playoff team.
One thing you can expect is for this to be largely a half-court series. The Heat was 27th in the “Pace” category, while Boston was 17th. But the Celts played to a Pace of 96.1 against Toronto, which had more fast-break points than anybody this season, so they wouldn’t mind at all being “deliberate.” That might play more into Miami’s hands; they were second best in the NBA in three-point percentage, and they had the highest ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts.
We don’t pay a lot of attention to the season series between these two. Boston won two of three, but in none of these was the complete cast of characters on hand, and in each of them, Miami was playing the second end of a back-to-back.
It may have seemed extremely unlikely at the start of all this, especially as the Heat was a sub-.500 road team. But they can get to the Finals. We like them in Game 1 and the series.
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