This year is quite different from the last time the Miami Heat were in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That was back in 2014, a defending champion squad that had met but also been exhausted by expectations, having gotten this far the three previous seasons. By then, it wasn’t fresh or fun. It was work. The players, including multiple stars, were tired of the pressure, tired of each other, tired of trying to justify their dynasty.
The Heat won that series against Paul George and the Indiana Pacers, as most predicted, before wilting in the heat against the San Antonio Spurs, with LeBron James and others leaving the organization not long after.
These Heat, by contrast, are at the start, and there earlier than anticipated. They have a combination of overlooked players, young and old, without a single top-8 draft selection on the roster. They have bonded in the Bubble and have fewer playoff losses (one) than anyone else.
So can they win this also, against a Boston Celtics team that is stout defensively and balanced offensively, with several rising stars in their own right? Here are the three keys…
1. The Bully Bam:
Adebayo, a first time All-Star, had one of his better Bubble games back on August 4, getting to the line constantly during a 21-point, 12-rebound performance. There’s no reason to think he won’t do that again, provided he is aggressive. Daniel Theis is a decent defender, but he doesn’t have Adebayo’s lateral quickness. Adebayo’s acknowledgements that he needs to take care of the ball better, while more frequently firing from midrange, is a good sign. He can be the difference here.
2. Controlling Kemba:
It was odd seeing Walker, the Celtics’ electric, poised point guard, struggle at times against the Raptors. But he can be more trouble for Miami. The Heat aren’t especially stingy at the point of attack, and when Goran Dragic guarded Walker often in the 2016 playoffs, Walker wreaked havoc, albeit somewhat inefficiently. Don’t be surprised to see Jimmy Butler and even Andre Iguodala take turns against Walker, so he needs to exploit Dragic, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn when they are against him.
3. More in Reserve:
This is where the Heat can dominate. Until Gordon Hayward returns, the Celtics are quite thin on the perimeter, with Marcus Smart staying in the lineup and no perimeter creators behind him. Tyler Herro has showed no fear at age 20; he’s playing the most fourth quarter minutes per game of anyone in the playoffs. He and Kelly Olynyk combining to provide 20 points would likely outscore Boston’s entire bench.
The Better Bet:
Heat in 7.
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-- written by Juicy J