The Miami Heat have a chance tonight to take a commanding 3-0 lead against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and take another step along the path to an unexpected appearance in the NBA Finals.
In the Before Times, the Heat were good but on a rung beneath Eastern Conference leaders like the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. Then the league shut down because of the pandemic and Eric Spoelstra and the Heat braintrust had time to evaluate what they’d been doing and make some changes.
The biggest thing they did was shifting Bam Adebayo to center full-time and relegating Meyers Leonard to the bench. It was like unlocking a cheat code. They improved on both ends of the floor — Adebayo is an elite defender and Miami no longer has a self-check in the lineup.
With unselfish stars like Jimmy Butler and Adebayo, the Heat have loads of options on the offensive end — if opponents sell out to stop pindowns for Duncan Robinson (an elite shooter) or Tyler Herro (a very good shooter), they can shift to pick and rolls for Butler or Goran Dragic or even isos for Butler. And if all else gets taken away, they can pass out to Jae Crowder, who’s usually open for an open look from three.
On defense, the Heat have two outstanding defenders (Adebayo and Butler), very good ones (Crowder and Andre Iguoudala), and guys who can hold their own in well-defined roles (Robinson, Herro, Dragic, Derrick Jones). The Heat also have some strategic flexibility. They have an array of zones and man defensive sets they can employ, which can serve to slow an opponent’s attack while they figure out what they’re facing.
None of the above should be read as counting out the Celtics. The first two games have been close throughout and either could have gone Boston’s way. Despite elevated turnovers and poor shooting from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, the Celtics were close to winning each of the first two games.
My guess for today: Boston takes game three. I think the Heat will ultimately win the series, but it’ll probably take six or seven games.
- Game 3: Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat (2-0) — 8:30 p.m. ESPN