I posed the following question to the staff for our latest roundtable.
Which non-star players could be the biggest X-factors in this series? (excludes Tatum, Brown, Jimmy, and Bam)
For the Heat: Max Strus. The one time member of the Boston Celtics has developed into a really nice rotation piece for the Heat. With Tyler Herro out with an injury, Strus has been asked to do a lot to fill that void. While nowhere near the playmaker Desmond Bane is, Strus reminds me a lot of Bane with his ability to wreak havoc coming off of screens, and if the Celtics don’t lock in on his movement off ball, Strus can get loose. For the Celtics: Malcolm Brogdon. The biggest addition to the C’s was not there for either of the prior matchups with Miami, and his dead eye shooting is something the C’s will sorely need when things get mucky in Miami. Brogdon can be frustrating at times because the ball gets sticky when he touches it, and his forays into the lane for wild left-handed layups will simply not work with Bam Adebayo patrolling the paint. However, he is a real guy and has been as good as advertised in these playoffs. I fully expect Brogdon to win the Celtics a game in this series.
Derrick White is going to return to form. He’ll get more playing time this series because the Sixers have a bunch of guys who come off screens and can shoot the nets off the rim, which makes White’s excellent screen navigation skills incredibly necessary. Whether he hits shots or not will ultimately decide what his role in this series looks like, but I think his specific style of defense should be effective against the Heat.
For the Heat, I worry about Duncan Robinson. His ability to draw defenders away from the ball is special, and the gravity he requires opens up lines for his teammates. You can’t let him get going, because he can change the course of a game, and maybe even the series.
Although it pains me, I will pick Kyle Lowry for the Heat. The Heat will have to muck up the series to win. And Lowry’s flopping, flailing, pulling, grabbing, whining, shot-making, deflection-causing game is very comfortable in that muck. I don’t expect Lowry to be good every game, but if he swings a couple games the Heat’s direction with clutch play, this series could get tight quickly.
For the Celtics, I’ll stick with last series’ energy-shifting X-factor and say Rob Williams. If Rob is on and active, the double big pairing with Horford could really control the glass, protect the rim, and help limit the effectiveness of Adebayo. I don’t think “activating” Rob last series was just a Philly adjustment. It could be the move this Celtics team needed to truly regain championship-level form.
Kevin Love could be a major X Factor for the Heat. Rare you can say that about a mid season buyout candidate but this is no normal ECF team. The Heat front court behind Bam is very thin and the Heat will need shooting to open the floor for Jimmy to operate. Insert Kevin Love. Defensively he’ll be a liability the Celtics can look to exploit but expect Miami to try and hide Love by utilizing zone for stretches with him on the court. If the zone holds up in his minutes and he finds a solid 3pt stroke on offense to keep defenders like Rob or Al away from protecting the basket he could be a key part of Miami making this a very difficult series for the C’s.
For the Celtics, Marcus Smart is my X Factor. The C’s back court is a huge advantage over the Heat, especially sans Tyler Herro (for now). The Heat have a star on the wing and in the front court that they’ll rely on for major production but the back court is more of a hope and prayer situation. Lowry and Vincent have had moments but Smart and his back court teammates should be able to collectively wrangle them and give the Celtics an edge. Kyle Lowry will do his best agitation work this time of year and as the Celtics defensive leader it will be on Marcus to respond (or not) and stay in control. We just saw Marcus at his best to close the Sixers series and if he can bring the same controlled chaotic energy into this round, the Heats slim chances of victory will get even smaller. (edited)
I agree with all the answers above and will echo what Ben said about Kyle Lowry. He’s an irritant, a fierce competitor and, truthfully, a heck of a winner. If he’s able to Lowry his way through the series, that won’t bode well for the Celtics. If Boston is able to wear him down, minimize his open looks and not get caught up in the antics, he shouldn’t be too much of a pest. For the Celtics, I’ll say Al Horford. I’ve said it before and will probably say it again: When Horford is aggressive and efficient, the Celtics are just about unguardable. He doesn’t need to average 15 per game, but he does need to be a threat and bury his open looks. He can’t let Kevin Love outplay him.
For Miami, if Kyle Lowry can play to his expectations, it’s going to be a problem. An absolute menace at drawing fouls and creating contact as well as capable of hitting big shots, Lowry will continue to be a nuisance if he can stay on the floor. If you let him get hot, he has the ability to completely swing a game. For Boston, this is where you need to be able to turn to Derrick White, even after a quiet series vs Philadelphia. In order for Boston to answer, they need guys in their guard rotation to step up, including White and Brogdon. Out of the bench guards, White has the best chance of making a bigger impact because of his defensive acumen and unselfish play on offense. If the offense is clicking, White is going to get a lot of open looks, he just has to make them.
The x-factor for me the entire playoffs has been Rob Williams and against Miami, it will continue to be Rob Williams. We saw in Game 6 and Game 7 just how valuable he is defensively, but offensively, he changed the entire course of the season. He is the ultimate mismatch creator and his pick and roll game with Tatum sparked the 51 point performance. Use him to get Bam and K-Love into switches onto Tatum and Brown. Allow him to attack the Cody Zeller minutes off the roll when he has to spell Bam. If Rob dominates, this team dominates. He’s going to be put into a lot of different defensive actions against Miami to try and pull him away from the rim, but if he can stay composed and out of foul trouble, there is no reason why he can’t help lead the Celtics to a 5-game series win. For Miami, I agree with the wonderful CelticsBlog staff. It’s Kyle Lowry for me. Without Herro, Miami has very few players who can actually create offense off the dribble. Strus, Robinson, and Martin are all decent catch and shoot guys, but I’m not sure I really want them creating offense for me in tight spots. lowry still has that ability and I would be shocked if he isn’t a significant piece of Miami’s closing offense. If the Celtics can shut off that valve and not allow him to create those devastating high-screen 3-ball opportunities with Bam, this series could be over even quicker than 5.
I really want to say Kyle Lowry. Age has caught up with him in a big way, but his experience, talent, and contentiousness will all play a part in Miami implementing their physical brand of basketball. I’m not expecting multiple big games from him, rather, throwback moments - on both sides of the floor. I’m also going to chest and say Max Strus will be a problem too
It feels like the Heat need a big series from Kyle Lowry to really have a chance. They traded for him with the intent to make him their third star alongside Butler and Adebayo, but instead, he’s spent his Heat tenure infrequently healthy and looking every one of his 37 years old. This postseason, he’s been reasonably effective, if inconsistent. While the Heat have always done an admirable job conjuring roster depth out of nowhere – welcome back to an NBA rotation, Duncan Robinson! – they’re still vastly outclassed by the Celtics in terms of talent. A throwback Lowry series would go a long way towards evening the odds.
The correct answers are Kyle Lowry and Marcus Smart, who will have an epic flop-off similar to the Zoolander-Hansen dance-off. I can’t wait.