Which Jimmy Butler Will Show Up?
Rohan Nadkarni: In Games 3-5 Jimmy Butler scored a total of 27 points, missed half of Game 3 due to a knee injury, and returned only to be a shadow of himself in Games 4 and 5, both Heat losses. In Game 6, Butler put in arguably the best performance of his career, with 47 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals. It might not be easier for Miami in Game 7 than to get a great Butler game instead of a mediocre one. His two 40-point efforts in this series coincided with the Heat’s two most impressive wins. The common thread in those games was elite shotmaking and reaching the free-throw line. In Games 1 and 6, Butler went to the line 29 times together. In Games 2-5, Butler attempted only 14 free throws, including none in Game 4.
Key to Butler’s success in the playoffs was his excellence in the pick and roll. He only ran 4.3 per game as the ball handler during the regular season. In Game 6, he ran 13, including six in the fourth quarter alone, according to Synergy Sports. In the postseason, Butler generally does more pick and rolls every night, averaging 1.16 points per possession – an elite figure. When the downhill, finish-at-the-rim-through-contact Butler is available to the Heat, their chances of winning increase exponentially. If Butler plays on his knee for the time being and screens more often than attacks with the ball, Miami is in trouble. (A few more threes and late turnaround jumpers wouldn’t hurt either.)
Can the three-pointers get started?
RN: In the regular season, Miami led the league with 37.9%. In the conference final, the Heat shoot just 31.5% from deep, the worst team of the last four. Boston deserves a lot of credit for smothering Miami’s gunmen. The Celtics‘ Ability to switch one to five makes it difficult for wingers to shake loose that come around screens. And Derrick White in particular has done a great job chasing Max Strus when both are in play. Meanwhile, Miami’s inability to attack the rim consistently means the defense doesn’t collapse in the paint. In the regular season, the Heat were second in the league attempting 11.1 corners per game, and second best at converting them at 41.9%. Against Boston, Miami only plays 9.3 corner threes per game, which is a pitiful 26.8% – thanks in no small part to Robert Williams’ insane ability to go from court to corner.
Is the Heat ready for a big shooting night? The Celtics sometimes come on screens, often with Williams. Kyle Lowry, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and maybe even Victor Oladipo may need to step in and get some big shots. And if Butler starts to put pressure on the inside, that can also present opportunities. One problem for Miami is that as the rotation has tightened up, less room has been made for some of its best shooters. If the Heat can finally get going from the outside, that could help their otherwise dying offense.
Can the Heat continue to enforce sales?
RN: This is really the big battlefield in this series. Miami can’t score on the half-court, and the Celtics are generally better equipped to do so – even against the Heat’s solid defense – because of their combination of size and shooting. When Miami Celtics sales pile up, the odds of winning go through the roof. In the Heat’s three wins in this series, Boston has 56 turnovers. In the three Heat wins, Boston has only 33.
Part of the problem is the Celtics’ shaky passing. But Miami’s defense deserves credit. Butler is constantly lurking in passing lanes, and the Heat does a great job of crowding out Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown when they crash the paint. PJ Tucker and Victor Oladipo were absolute ballhawks, and Miami seems to be living well with a pair of open threes if it means the team can get into the transition and score some easy buckets. If the Heat continues to dig, strip, steal and intercept in Game 7, they will give themselves a chance to score enough points to win. If they are unable to continue generating live ball revenue, the game will fall back in Boston’s favor.
How much time will Boston spend in small formations?
Michael Pina: It’s hard to draw too much on lineup data across a sample of six games, especially when collected from a back-and-forth burst-packed series. But when it comes down to it, Ime Udoka really relies on his defense with Derrick White and a big one on the floor. In Game 6, he drove most of the fourth quarter off White, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and if not because of a historic shot by Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry and two crucial misses at the free throw line by Brown , it would have sent them to the final.
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That particular group has answers on both sides. They can flatten Miami by switching every ball screen (Butler is chasing White, but it’s not really a mismatch) and on the other hand they have five game-making threats that can knock out open threes and make good things happen when the Heat doubles Tatum . However, the downside of this group is that it pushes Rob Williams III and Grant Williams – two of the best defenders in the league – to the bench. Udoka will ride hot hands and see how small Miami is willing to go before joining a group in a close game, but it’ll be interesting to see how quickly he deploys this five-man unit, which failed to achieve its success. first appearance in the conference finals until the second quarter of Game 5.
Can Tatum be a monster?
Member of Parliament: In Games 4, 5 and 6 of the conference semifinals against Milwaukee, Tatum scored 12, 12 and 16 points in the fourth quarter. In this one series, he hasn’t had the same kind of impact. Some of that is due to the aforementioned outbursts (Tatum played a total of three minutes in the fourth quarter of Games 2 and 4) and some can be illustrated by the different defensive strategies of the Bucks and Heat. But besides building another 20-point lead down the road, Boston’s path to the finals gets a lot less bumpy as Tatum establishes himself as the series’ best player in the final 12 minutes.
In Game 6, he took a playoff low 12 shots and tied his playoff high with seven turnovers. Tatum not need to make and make difficult shots to make the Celtics triumph, but he can’t cough up the ball and float through crucial possessions in the second half without bending the Miami defense and creating open shots for his teammates. In theory and practice, he is the linchpin for Boston’s attack, the star who consistently draws two and opens opportunities for everyone else. The Celtics don’t lose if he’s decisive. In Game 7 he will have to be.
Will Boston provide the ball?
Member of Parliament: Sales have been the Celtics’ Achilles heel throughout the series. In eight games throughout the year, they have achieved a turnover rate of more than 19%. Two of them made it to the conference final, with the last coming on January 28. Brown’s 19 series turnovers are equal for the second time he has ever counted in the playoffs over a six-game period. Tatum’s 31 turnovers are the highest he has ever made in the playoffs over a six-game period. When unforced and live ball, they unleash a Miami offense that has managed to score just 87.3 points per 100 possession on the half court (a point worse than what the Pistons in last place during the regular season). generated).
Throughout the series, Udoka has been warning his stars not to play in a crowd. Don’t drift too deep into Miami’s defenses and then try to make a game. Get off the ball. Moving and moving. Much of this is easier said than done against a starving, hyper-intelligent group that is constantly reaching for the ball and bumbling in and out of passing lanes. But if Boston doesn’t make unnecessary mistakes, they are the better team.
Member of Parliament: Boston. There have been 25 Game 7s in the history of the conference finals. Only eight road teams survived. Nothing will be easy for the Celtics on Sunday night against a confident Heat team with several brave veterans who won’t be upset at this point. But Boston is healthier, with a defense that has fewer vulnerabilities. Tatum’s 46 point performance in Game 6 of the previous round shows he can take on the challenge in a hostile environment. The Celtics have already had two dominant wins in this series at the FTX Arena and haven’t lost twice in a row all through the postseason. Miami’s recipe for victory was seen in Game 6, and it required some insane shots. Chances are they won’t be able to do it again.
RN: I still think it’s Boston. The Celtics were the most dominant team in the NBA as of January. And while the heat has pushed them, Boston has been controlling the action on the floor for much of this series. The Celts have more opportunities to score halfway through when things get tight, and Tatum has generally responded to mediocre efforts – like he had in Game 6 – with elite performance. Ultimately, Boston is the more complete team, with more roads to success than Miami. I’m also a little concerned about an emotional disappointment for the Heat after the stampede of that Game 6 win. If the Celtics are truly the team that has rocked the league in the second half of the season, here’s their chance to prove it.
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