For the first time ever, we have an Eastern Conference Finals matchup that doesn’t include a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Both the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were underdogs in their second-round series, but came out on top. While these may not have been the teams we expected to be here a few weeks ago, it is shaping up to be an excellent series.
Let’s take a look at what to expect in this Eastern Conference Finals matchup. You can also view our Western Conference Finals Preview.
Regular Season Series
These teams matched up three times during the regular season, twice before the hiatus and once in the bubble. In the two games outside of the bubble, Boston looked like the better team by far, winning both contests by a combined 27 points. Although Jimmy Butler averged 28.5 points in these two games, it wasn’t enough to pull off the a win with the Celtics’ stars all stepping up.
However, more recently, Miami and Boston played in a bubble seeding game. Even with Butler resting, the Heat won this one by six points behind 20-plus-point performances from Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson. Although Butler has been the best player overall in the regular season series between these teams, the Celtics won the crown 2-1.
The Path Here
The Heat are perhaps the hottest team in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. After an impressive sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round, they were set to play the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA during the regular season. Miami stepped up to the challenge, beating Milwaukee in just five games, bringing their playoff record to 8-1.
While Jimmy Butler has been great, as expected, the hero of their playoff run has been Goran Dragic. After starting just three games all season in a bench role, he has emerged as one of the most important players for the Heat, averaging 21.1 points per game as a starter.
The Celtics also swept their first round series, taking care of the Philadelphia 76ers without a problem. In the second round, however, it took everything they had against the Toronto Raptors. After starting out the series winning the first two games against the defending champions, they would lose their next two and the series was tied up.
From there, the teams would swap wins and ultimately play in a Game 7 to see who would advance. In a gutsy performance, the Celtics won Game 7 behind 50 combined points from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. These two young, rising stars have been the story of the playoffs for Boston, leading the team in scoring. Kemba Walker has also had his moments, averaging 19.6 points per game in the playoffs as the team’s third leading scorer.
What to Watch For
While the Celtics are slightly favored in this series, it’s not by much. Both teams have a great balance of experienced veterans and young talent. This is yet another series that could go seven games.
The Heat have a ton of shooters and it has shown in the playoffs to this point. They had a lot of success in the regular season, with their .379 three-point percentage being second best in the NBA. This has been consistent in the playoffs, as they’ve shot .380, good for third-best in the playoffs. Boston on the flip side has struggled from deep, at just .341 and worst of any team that made it out of the first round.
To combat their poor shooting, the Celtics have been great defensively. Their defensive rating of 101.9 is the best of any team in the playoffs. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have anchored down the team on that side of the floor which has resulted in Boston winning quite a few low-scoring games. In fact, their Game 7 win against the Raptors came with a final score of 92-87.
When it comes to individual matchups, both teams are loaded with talent. The starting lineups seem to be fairly even. The trio of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum going up against Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will be fun to watch. However, this series will come down to the other players on each respective team.
While the Celtics have gotten great production from Marcus Smart in the playoffs, they’ve struggled to get consistent performances from anyone else. Luckily for Boston, Gordon Hayward is set to potentially return to action soon after an ankle injury in their first-round series. Boston’s bench has been their weakest link thus far, giving them just 18.2 points per game. Unlike the Celtics, when it comes to depth, Miami certainly has plenty. Getting 29.7 points per game from their bench has been key for their success behind guys like Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala, Kendrick Nunn and Kelly Olynyk.
The Miami Heat took Game 1 of this series, winning by a final score of 117-114. Jayson Tatum’s 30 points wasn’t enough to get the win as Goran Dragic led Miami with 29 points.