The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat each have elite defenses. Which team’s offense has the better shot of thriving in the Eastern Conference Finals series?
Jeff Pratt: I like Boston’s chances of finding success against the Heat, mostly because of their size. Bam Adebayo is a strong defensive player but he’s only 6’9. PJ Tucker is 6’5 starting at PF. The Celtics struggled to get anything going in the paint against Milwaukee due to Giannis and Brook Lopez’s defensive prowess. The Heat simply don’t have that size, so Al Horford, Rob Williams (if he’s healthy) and even Daniel Theis will have the opportunity to take advantage of it. Boston can also shoot just as effectively from the outside as Miami, so I’d give the slight edge to the Celtics here. Give credit to the Heat where it’s due, though. They don’t have one dominant offensive player like the Bucks, but there are a lot of solid scorers on that squad.
Adam Spinella: The Celtics have a better isolation scorer, more mismatch options and reliable 3-point shooting across the board. We’re in on the Celtics’ offense having the edge against Miami. The Heat offense is built off physical mismatches (with Butler in particular feasting, and Boston’s army of big, physical wings and guards prevents that from having a major impact
Jack Simone: Boston has the better offensive players. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the two best scorers in the series (despite what Jimmy Butler has done in the playoffs this year). They also have a great floor-spacer in Al Horford and a constant lob threat in Rob Williams. But Miami has that, too. (PJ Tucker and Bam Adebayo) The big edge Miami has over the Celtics on paper is consistent shooting off the bench. However, Max Strus has been an average shooter throughout the playoffs, Tyler Herro has struggled from deep, and Duncan Robinson has fallen out of Miami’s rotation. In actuality, the Celtics’ bench shooters have shot better from range this series. With Boston’s advantage in the star department and their length to bother opposing shooters, give me the Celtics’ offense here.
Trevor Hass: Is neither an answer? But seriously, it may be difficult for either team to get in a rhythm. There will likely be a game or two for each team where shots fall and they put up 110-plus points, but overall, this series will likely be played in the 90s and low-100s. The Celtics probably have a bit of a better chance to consistently score because of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s elite shot-making. The Celtics made 53 more 3’s than the Bucks, which was the biggest differential in any series ever, and they should try to follow a similar formula against the Heat. The best way to break down an elite defense is to move the ball, exploit mismatches and take high-percentage shots. For instance, when Tatum and Brown have PJ Tucker, Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo on them, they shouldn’t force anything. When they’re up against Tyler Herro, Victor Oladipo, Max Strus or Duncan Robinson – decent team defenders, but not at the same level – they need to look to pounce (think Grayson Allen and George Hill).
Will Bjarnar: Boston. It comes down to the options at your disposal. Miami has a few X-factor-type players that I didn’t mention in my first response that could impact the Celtics by offering instant in specific spots — Tyler Herro from three or off the dribble; Max Strus and Duncan Robinson from deep. But if Lowry can’t go, their offensive stream starts with Jimmy Butler, makes its way through Bam Adebayo, and then relies on others who are inconsistent at best, especially if they’re being swarmed by the Boston defense that just overwhelmed Milwaukee’s “others” in Game 7.
Meanwhile, Boston proved that there are sources of offense aplenty beyond the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown duo they understandably call upon first and foremost. There’s Al Horford, who must’ve made a deal with the devil ahead of the postseason (did I say I was complaining?). Grant Williams, apparently, is now Ray Allen. Even Payton Pritchard has shown that he can get in on the action when called upon. Of course, I’m being a bit brazen in my descriptions of their contributions thus far, but the fact of the matter is: that Boston used its trusted rotation to beat Milwaukee with defense and an offensive barrage in Game 7. That group (and that effort) is one I’d take over any remaining lineup in the field, including this elite Miami defense.
Neil Iyer: Like the Bucks series, we’ll get our fair share of games where both teams shoot in the low 40s and the on-court play resembles the slugfests of the 1990s. Nonetheless, I think Boston’s offense will be more effective than Miami’s. Bam will have his hands full chasing Grant and Horford around the perimeter and staying home to stop Timelord lobs. The Jays can effectively score in isolation and the role players have proven they can hit big shots. Having two outstanding 1-on-1 scorers with Tatum and Brown is the Celtics biggest advantage. Miami finished with the top regular season three-point shooting percentage, and their path to victory involves their role players connecting on deep balls at a high volume. But I just can’t see a scenario where their defense contains Tatum, who outplayed the two best players in the league over the first two rounds.
Michael Pearce: Biases aside, it still is the Celtics. Frankly put, the Celtics two best players are better scorers than Miami’s two best players available. Jayson Tatum is approaching superstar isolation scorer levels of brilliance, where he can just go get buckets no matter who is in front of him. Jimmy Butler can’t do what Tatum can do on offense, and Jaylen Brown is a much bigger problem for defenses than Bam Adebayo. Miami has a ton of talent, don’t get me wrong, but Luka Doncic just proved that superstar offensive talent can will you to victories in a seven-game series, and that is what Jayson Tatum is, a superstar. All the respect to Jimmy, but he doesn’t compare to Jayson offensively.
Keith Smith: The Celtics. This is especially true if Kyle Lowry is limited or out. Miami has to work pretty hard to create offense and a lot of that has to come from Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. It just so happens that Boston has a host of wing defenders they can throw at those two. On the other end, despite being a good defense, the Heat often play one or two players a good offense can target. Look for excessive hunting of mismatches for Boston that will put Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in positions to score or find shooters when help comes.
Bobby Manning: It is difficult to answer this question without full knowledge of Kyle Lowry, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams’ status entering this series. Jayson Tatum, at his best, should provide more offense than Jimmy Butler, but they may end up cancelling each other out to some degree. Jaylen Brown quietly had an explosive second round after a sensational first, averaging 22.0 PPG and 3.6 APG on 47.7% shooting and 43.8% three-point shooting. Those numbers are significantly better than Tyler Herro’s from round two (14.7 PPG, 44.6%, 37%), but he’s fighting Herro and Bam Adebayo’s output If Smart and Williams are out. Grant Williams will be an x-factor again, probably needing to share the burden some on Bam Adebayo to spell Al Horford, whose offense slowed after a 30-point Game 4 masterpiece in Milwaukee. Max Strus and Williams battling from three will be a fun matchup all series. Miami feels better suited to hit threes against the Celtics than Milwaukee did with one creator, since the Heat can get the short roll and other sets going. The offenses will be close, but considering Boston’s suffocating defensive performance in round two and Miami’s occasional half court issues I’ll take the Celtics. That’ll swing if Boston turns the ball over though.