The stage is set for the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, with Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat looking to break through to their second NBA Finals appearance in three […]
The stage is set for the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, with Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat looking to break through to their second NBA Finals appearance in three seasons, and with the Boston Celtics seeking their elusive first Championship appearance in Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown-era. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks out of the picture after Boston prevailed in Game 7, the Eastern Conference will crown a new champion in 2022.
The Heat and Celtics will square off in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons, with Miami winning a series meeting in six games in 2020 that sent them to the Orlando-bubble NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Heat also prevented the Celtics from reaching the NBA Finals in 2012 with a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals victory. Needless to say, Boston is hungry for both a Finals Trip in 2022 and some revenge for past playoff meetings with the Heat franchise.
Miami, the top-seeded team in the East after finishing the regular season with a 53-29 record, made quick work of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks with a 4-1 series win in the opening round of the playoffs, before dispatching James Harden, Joel Embiid, and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semifinals in six games. The Heat earned back-to-back wins over the 76ers after the series began tied 2-2, with the Heat earning a decisive 120-85 victory in Game 5 that shifted the series in their favor.
Jimmy Butler has carried the load for the Heat in the playoffs so far, averaging a team-high 28.7 points per game on a team-high 37.4 minutes per game. Center Bam Adebayo is the runner-up in each category, but averages 14.6 points per game on 32.1 minutes a night. Taking a further look at Butler’s PER (25.26) and the drop-off to Adebayo’s PER (15.14, second on the team again) really paints a picture of Butler’s value and impact on this Heat team.
Tyler Herro is adding 13.8 points per game off the bench, with starting shooting guard Max Strus and veteran Victor Oladipo rounding out the list of double-digit scorers. Offseason addition Kyle Lowry was largely ineffective in his two outings against the 76ers, and will begin the Eastern Conference Finals on the sidelines with a lingering hamstring injury.
The storied Boston Celtics franchise hasn’t appeared in the NBA Finals since a 2010 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen-Rajon Rondo-Doc Rivers era. The Brad Stevens-Jayson Tatum–Jaylen Brown era hasn’t been quite as decorated, but the Celtics have still been a more fortunate franchise than most over the last eight seasons. Boston is riding on eight straight postseason appearances, and has now made the Eastern Conference Finals four of the last six seasons.
The Celtics used a mid-season surge to propel themselves from a bottom-of-the-barrel playoff team in the East to, for a time, the conference’s top record. Boston settled in to the second seed with a 51-31 record, but drew perhaps the worst possible first round matchup: the Brooklyn Nets, who were only seeded so low due to injuries to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving’s vaccine-induced unavailability for much of the season, and James Harden’s departure from the team. The Nets were the seventh seed in name only, and were still favored to win the East heading in to the postseason.
Boston swiftly squashed that narrative, not only beating Durant, Irving, and the Nets, but completing the only sweep of the 2022 NBA Finals thus far. That’s not to say the series came without sweat, as the Celtics won their four games by an average of 3.8 points, with the biggest win coming by seven points and the narrowest coming by just one.
The Celtics defense held superstar Durant to 26.3 points per game on an insane 44.0 minutes per night, where the forward shot 38.6% from the field. Both Durant’s scoring output and field goal percentage were his lowest since his first-ever playoff season, in 2010 with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After eliminating Durant from postseason contention, the Celtics got the luxury of facing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, in perhaps the most brutal back-to-back slate of teams any franchise has had to deal with this postseason. Boston fell behind in the series to the third-seeded Bucks 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. But the Celtics dug deep, won Game 6 in Milwaukee by 13 points, and then ran the Bucks out of the arena in Game 7 with a 109-81 win despite heroic attempts from Antetokounmpo. Giannis had 25 points, 20 rebounds, and 9 assists, but couldn’t get enough help from his supporting cast in the absence of Khris Middelton.
Antetokounmpo averaged 31.7 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 49.1% shooting over the seven-game series. Boston may have allowed Giannis to put up some monster numbers, but in limiting the production of his teammates, the Celtics still found a way to prevail.
The Boston Celtics have already downed Kevin Durant ad the Brooklyn Nets as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo and reigning NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks in back-to-back rounds of the playoffs. The Celtics are red-hot, with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford leading the charge.
Jimmy Butler isn’t as physically gifted or sharp-shooting as Durant or Antetokounmpo, but he’s still the next star in Boston’s path. But whether Boston limits Butler like they did to Durant, or focuses on limiting Butler’s supporting cast like they did to Antetokounmpo, the Celtics seem to have the advantage. With Butler struggling to find support at times and barely anyone besides Herro and Adebayo pouring in double-digit points on a nightly basis, the Celtics should be able to control the pace and tone of these Eastern Conference Finals.
Between Tatum’s 28.3 PPG, Brown’s 22.2 PPG, and solid 15.0 PPG and 13.0 PPG from Smart and Horford, the Celtics have many ways to score the basketball. Throw in instances like Grant Williams going off for a career-high 27 points in Game 7 against the Bucks, with seven three-pointers made, and you never know how the Celtics will beat you on offense.
That’s not to say the Heat aren’t deep as well though. Even though consistent production from non-Jimmy Butler members of the Heat could be improved upon, Herro can still put up electric numbers. Oladipo could turn back the clock, even if just for a game or two. Duncan Robinson could get going in the paint, or P.J. Tucker could use his veteran-savviness to make a game-changing play.
The Celtics have all the tools necessary to win this series, but Miami does have a slight edge with homecourt advantage. While I don’t think this series will go the full distance, Miami will definitely win a game or two on their floor and make this a series.
Prediction: Celtics win in six games
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