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NBA Finals 2020: 10 Key Issues Ahead of Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference Finals

The Boston Celtics creaked by the Toronto Raptors in seven games to advance to the finals of the Eastern Conference, while the Miami Heat only needed five to take the Milwaukee Bucks out. Both teams are stingy and can be exchanged defensively, and both are offended by a number of sources. The third seeded Celtics are widely considered the favorites, but the Heat are anything but a typical No. 5 seed. Here are 10 questions for previewing the series that begins on Tuesday:

1. Can the Celtics handle the Miami zone?

Boston did not get past the Raptors because of its offense, which looked particularly out of sorts against zone coverage. Box-and-one made it difficult for Kemba Walker to find her rhythm running pick-and-rolls, and for Boston to generate shots the same way they normally do. Miami knows this, and it played more zone than any other team in the NBA this season.

Maybe the second round of Celtics prepared for what’s to come. They were in problem solving mode all the time and their coaching staff makes sure they will not be surprised if Heat starts Game 1

in a 2-3 zone. However, it is also possible that zoning is simply an effective way to combat the best Boston does when it has the ball in its possession: giving it to Walker and setting up screens for him.

One thing that can make a zone less durable is to have another playmaker and shooter in the lineup, which brings us to …

2. What’s going on with Hayward?

Gordon Hayward underwent a small group workout after training on Monday and “looked good as he went through it,” coach Brad Stevens said, “but there’s a big difference between doing it and actually getting into a game.” He does not play in the opening, but if he is available after that and can approach his game in the normal season, he can change the feeling of the Celtics’ offense.

Hayward only had a usage rate of 20.6 percent this season, but that drastically underscores his skills and how important he can be in a series like this. What makes Boston unique is that in full force it can create matchup problems with four perimeter players, making it difficult for defense to reset any of them or hide a weak defender. Hayward is just as comfortable creating plays for others as he is for himself, which cannot be said of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, so his presence naturally gives the offense more pop.

3. How will the Celtics match defensively?

The luxury of starting four multiposition defenders is that Stevens has every possible option. I’m most interested in who’s on Goran Dragic and who’s on Bam Adebayo at the beginning of game 1.

First Team All-Defense guard Marcus Smart is the obvious choice to slow down Dragic, who was one of the league’s best reserves in the regular season and has been a phenomenal start to the playoffs, a huge driving force for Miami’s offensive success. However, Tatum is an exciting alternative and could potentially disrupt Dragic’s rhythm with his length – he and Brown both spent a lot of time protecting Raptors guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet in the second round (and will probably both sign Jimmy Butler’s duty).

Daniel Theis looks like the standard matchup for Adebayo, but I would bet Boston gets creative at some point in the series. If Stevens is experimenting with Brown or even Smart on him, you can expect Adebayo to try to bully himself against the edge and get to the free throw line. In this scenario, however, the big man is often the one who is called to the free kick. Which brings us to …

4. Can the Celtics handle the Bam stuff?

The heat makes it an incredible amount of mileage out of Adebayo and does things that opposing teams don’t see too often. By the offense, he is a total weirdo, a sort of hybrid of Draymond Green and Domantas Sabonis, unconventional All-Stars in their own right, but with much more foot speed and explosiveness than any of them.

Adebayo will push the ball away from defensive rebounds and find Heat easily shoveling out of dribbling handoffs. When he has the ball at his elbow, Miami confuses defense in the same way that the Golden State Warriors did with screens and cuts that often end up with Adebayo earning an assist – and if he notices you playing him for the pass, he will happily attack the basket itself. Boston knows all about its chemistry with Duncan Robinson, and if it decides to hide Theis elsewhere, it’s probably in order to switch when the two are involved in an action.

5. Is matchup hunting the answer to Heat?

The Celtics’ offensive approach may be completely different than it was in the second round. “Isolation is not the answer,” Stevens said two weeks ago, but it may be now. While the Heat may be a devastating defensive team, they have a few weak individual defenders in their rotation. The Indiana Pacers were at their best in the first round as they attacked Dragic, Robinson and Tyler Herro one-on-one. Miami can counter this by giving more minutes to Andre Iguodala and Derrick Jones Jr., but that would mean sacrificing distance at the other end.

Boston seems uniquely suited to harness the heat here, especially when switching ball screens. In these playoffs, the Celtics have been much more of a pick-and-roll team and have had little success in isolation, but championship providers need to be able to play different ways against different opponents. This matchup makes me think of their second-round series two years ago, where they repeatedly targeted the Philadelphia 76ers’ JJ Redick, Dario Saric, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.

6. Does the heat get so hot from deep?

Miami changed in a fundamental way when it replaced Meyers Leonard with Jae Crowder and got Herro back from injury. Before Crowder’s debut on February 9, Miami was ninth in 3-point frequency and second in accuracy per. Cleaning the glass. In the sowing matches, with Herro healthy, only the Houston Rockets shot 3s more often, but its percentage dropped to 35 percent, which is about league average. In the playoffs, the Heat have had the best of both worlds: 41.9 percent of their shots have been 3s, and they have made 38.5 percent of them. Both grades are fourth.

Miami will be hard to stop if Crowder, a former Celtic, continues to shoot 40 percent on 8.3 attempts per game. Game. Boston opponents typically take many 3s, but make up a low percentage of them; in the second round, Toronto shot 30 percent or worse in all of its four losses.

7. Can Herro stop this?

Herro has made 40 percent of his 3s in the playoffs, but that doesn’t tell the story. He makes them in crunchy times, he makes them away from the dribbling, and more importantly, he has earned coach Erik Spoesltra’s confidence as a playmaker. In a seeding game against the Phoenix Suns, he had 25 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds; in the clincher against the Bucks, he had 14 points, six assists and eight rebounds.

The Celtics, with their army of wing defenders, are Herro’s biggest challenge yet. I could see them trying to take him out by putting Smart on him.

8. Can Boston defend without pollution?

Butler came to the line nine times a game in the regular season and that number has risen to 10.7 in the playoffs. Dragic and Adebayo can also wreak havoc this way, and the Heat led the league in free throw percentage in the regular season (and are number two in the playoffs). This is something to look at, especially because the Celtics were 24th in free-kick defensively and are physical both in circumference and in the paint.

When Boston is disgusting, the culprit is often Theis. Grant Williams, who closed Game 7 against Toronto in the center, also tends to catch errors on the inside. Which brings us to …

9. What is the Celtics’ frontcourt rotation?

Once Adebayo has been off the field, Miami has either had Kelly Olynyk in its place or gone without a great man. In this regard, Boston is less predictable – if Stevens wants vertical spacing and shot blocking, he can summon Robert Williams; if he wants variability and sound rotations, he can go with Grant Williams; if he wants offensive rebound and post-up scoring, he can try Enes Kanter. I wouldn’t even be shocked to see Semi Oeljeye get a few minutes on 5 against Adebayo.

Theis typically plays 25-30 minutes per. Match, but he got 47 in double overtime in Game 6. If Stevens is looking for some offensive punch, he could go with Robert Williams or Kanter when Theis goes on the bench. They both leave Boston vulnerable to Miami’s pick-and-rolls, though, so I suppose there will be an opportunity here for Grant Williams or Oeieye, who are both officially listed at 6-foot-6, to play “center “.

10. How will Miami match defensively?

If the heat chooses not to use a ton zone, there are several minor issues here:

  • If Hayward starts, where are Dragic and Robinson hiding?
  • How do they use Adebayo?
  • How much shift will they make?
  • Who protects Tatum?

Boston may be able to bring Hayward off the bench, at least at the start, but if he starts (and is effective), Miami might consider taking Robinson or Dragic out of the starting lineup for Iguodala. It makes sense to put Adebayo on Theis because he can switch Walker’s ball screens and otherwise roam around as an assistant defender, but if Tatum gets started, Spoelstra can throw Adebayo at him.

After guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Crowder was able to pull the Tatum task. Butler, however, may be more suited to it. These matchups might not matter so much if Spoelstra decides to change everything.

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