In a normal year we preview big leaguewide NFL stories as the season starts moving into high gear in Week 2 September. But, since this year isn’t normal, we’ll push to next week, mentioning that Cam Newton had more rushing yards in his first Patriots game on Sunday than Tom Brady had in any entire season during 20 years in New England. Instead, with the NBA playoffs going on in September for the first time ever, we’re focused on the Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Celtics and the Miami Heat that got underway on Tuesday night.
How’s Boston Doing Without Kyrie?
Well, with much of the basketball media, including the clueless crew in New York, somehow still calling him a “superstar” after he did the same thing to the Nets he did to the Celtics, they’re going to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four years. The only time they didn’t go? The year Kyrie played and choked his way through Round II by shooting 30 percent as they got croaked in five by Milwaukee. As I said when he left for Brooklyn, addition by subtraction, and that’s clearly the case.
Udonis Haslem Effect: Miami must really like his effect in the locker room because the 40-year-old one-time starter hasn’t played as many as 30 games since 2015-16 and he’s still on the team. He’s also the last playing link to Matt Bonner; they were teammates when Florida went to the NCAA Finals in 2000.
Five Quick Thoughts on Miami:(1) They play great team D. (2) Bam Adebayo is a lot better than most people realize. He shot 52 percent, grabs 10 boards a game and is a solid defender. (3) Ditto for tragic Goran Dragic, a versatile and physical offensive player who averaged 19.8 vs. the Bucks. (4) They’re good and very consistent shooting threes. (5) Erik Spoelstra is an excellent coach and not in the whiney, what a tool, way Rob (good night) Nurse is.
New Hampshire Connection: The three-point bomber from New Castle, Duncan Robinson, is trying to become just the second New Hampshire native to win an NBA title. At the moment he’s seven or eight wins away from joining Bonner, who won two with San Antonio. But if the Celtics don’t take away his and Tyler Herro’s long-range shooting room, he’ll just be four shy come Sept. 30.
How’d They’d Get There? – Heat: They’re 8-1 in the playoffs and easily took out Milwaukee in five games. They did it by building a defensive wall that held 29.5 per game scoring Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 21 per and by being a whopping 63 better on threes. Part of that was due to holding Milwaukee to 32 percent behind the line to their 37 percent, but a bigger factor was taking 36 more long-range bombs.
How’d They Get There? – Celtics: Team defense and getting to the line. The Raptors were held to 32 percent on threes and 44 percent on twos when in the regular season it was 37 percent and 52 percent. Which is how they held their own despite Toronto taking 29 more shots, 20 of which were from downtown. But overall the C’s were just a +1 in points from the field. The difference was at the foul line, where they outscored Toronto 128-108 by taking it inside to get fouled (Tatum was a series best 43-54) and earning more opportunities by being better in transition.
The Key Players
Guys who need to be the game-to-game best player for their team to win.
Heat – Jimmy Butler: There are things I don’t like about him and I probably don’t give him as much credit as he deserves. But he’s a good fit in Miami because it demands maximum effort from everyone so his chirping about that is less irritating. He’s also their leading scorer and a strong defender who’ll give Kemba, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown trouble.
Celtics – Jayson Tatum:
There was a lot of gushing over him during the Raptor series, but there was a lot to not gush about too. The rebounding, defense and passing, especially on the move, have all improved, as has his versatility in scoring, so he’s on his way to becoming something. But he needs to knock off the stream of brain dead plays that kill half-court flow and lead to turnovers or forced shots. Plus stop whining after every call and non-call. It diverts attention from getting back on D or being in the moment while building a rep as a whiner. In short, time to grow up. Though I must continually remind myself he’s just 22. By contrast Larry Bird was 26 in his third NBA season. Next step to being the Top 10 player he can be is greater full-time focus and growing maturity.
Things the pundits don’t talk enough about that can have a big impact.
Heat – The Bench: The mid-year additions of grizzled Andre Iguodala and old friend Jae Crowder made them more physical defensively and lengthened their bench, which could be a key since we’re never sure what the Celtics bench will do.
Celtics – Marcus Smart: It’d be nice to get Gordon Hayward back, but it’s Marcus who makes big plays in so many different ways. He’s got no fear, which is why he’s the only inconsistent shooter I’m OK seeing take the last shot because he’s convinced he’ll make it even when he’s 1-25.
Five Things Boston Must Do To Win: (1) Do not drift on Miami’s three-point shooters. Especially Robinson and Herro, who they must make put it on the floor, because when they catch and shoot they’re deadly. (2) Solid man defense on everyone because double teams and rotations leave the weak side open, where Miami kills you. (3) Win the transition game. (4) Make threes. Miami will take more, so Boston needs to shoot a better percentage. (5) Tatum can’t drift mentally, because they need him in the moment the whole series.