Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics
Line: Boston -2.5
Pick: Celtics -2.5
Game one of this series more than lived up to the hype. It’s pretty hard to complain when a game finishes on a last second, highlight reel play in overtime.
What I learned most from it though, is each of these teams are exactly who we thought they are.
Boston is a team that’s highly reliant on its star players. If Jayson Tatum is scoring efficiently, Jaylen Brown is staying involved, Marcus Smart is shooting it well and Kemba Walker is getting good looks, they’re really hard to deal with. Where they ran into a trap though was when the offence stagnated in the fourth quarter and overtime and it took away basically all the great things they did leading up to those moments.
For Miami, this team refuses to die. Much like the Raptors, you really have to put them away and if you don’t, Jimmy Butler is so special down the stretch of games that he will make you pay. Goran Dragic was the catalyst in refusing to let the Heat quit in game one with his constantly crafty European game.
What game two (and the rest of this series for that matter) will come down to is who can best find a way to accentuate their team’s greatest skills.
In the Celtic’s case, how can they best keep their big four rolling when the game tightens up? In the Heat’s case, how can they find a way to generate the great looks from deep they got in quarter two, four and overtime consistently for 48 minutes?
The reason I like the Celtics in this game is because I think the answer to their question is easier to solve in such a quick turnaround. Part of why Miami struggled to get great looks regularly is the elite defenders Boston has and I don’t see them answering that so soon in this series.
Boston’s question is much more solvable because 90% of the problem was great players just not being great. The playoffs are hard. Every decision is more magnified than ever before in their careers and each round you get, the more pronounced of an issue this becomes.
The Celtics are a really young team and it showed. They let the Heat dictate their offence and the pace of play by slowing down and running ISO’s in weird matchups. For three quarters, they found a way to take advantage of the fact Miami always has at least one (often two or three) poor defender on the floor and yet, late they ran heroball against the best the Heat had to offer.
Sure Tatum didn’t get the result he wanted when he drove to the basket to end the game but, I’ll take my chances with a 6’9, freak athlete driving than with a contested step back from damn near the logo. Sometimes special players make special plays and that’s what Bam Adebayo did. You have to tip your hat to greatness regularly in this league but that doesn’t necessarily mean the process of getting there was wrong.
Was Andre Iguodala wrong for going up with a layup when LeBron blocked him? There’s too many great players in this league who make uniquely incredible plays to allow that to ruin the process.
Tatum and Walker are really good players but their settling down the stretch showed their inexperience and cost them the game. They let the Heat control their own process.
It shows you something that when Butler was going for the win he drove to the basket, seeking contact and using his best skills to his advantage while Tatum in the same situation, hoists a shot from well outside his range. Those little errors are the ones that decide a long seven game series.
The good news for Celtic fans and why I like them in this game though, is all those mistakes are easily fixable. They need to keep Jaylen, Smart and Daniel Theis (who am I kidding, he’ll foul out by this point) involved down the stretch.
If we’ve learned anything in the 2020 NBA playoffs it’s that the more predictable you are, the harder it gets to score in close games in the fourth quarter.
Brad Stevens is too good a coach to not make the necessary, small changes to enhance his team’s chances. I could say the same about Erik Spoelstra which is exactly why they’re going to find a way to spring Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk open more consistently as the series extends.
For now though, look for a bounce back performance from the Celtics in an integral game two of this series. They know how important game two is down 0-1 against a veteran group like this Miami team.
If for some reason they’re unsure, all they need to do is reach out and ask the back-to-back reigning MVP.