Two out of three isn’t bad, or so the saying goes. And two out of three anonymized experts consulted for a recent article by The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry and Josh Robbins on which of the four conference finals teams will be likely to advance picked the Boston Celtics to advance past the Miami Heat to the 2022 NBA Finals.
The devil is always in the details in such matters, and here, it involves a trio of experts consulted by the authors with the pedigree to know as well as anyone what might end up happening at this late stage of the 2022 postseason.
Mayberry and Robbins asked an NBA scout, coach, and executive which of the two Eastern Conference teams will be competing for a title, and this is what they said.
“That’s going to be a defensive series. Both teams have good defenses. Every single possession is going to be a fight,” wrote the nameless talent assessor — and with Boston the 2021-22 regular season’s best defense and Miami coming in at fourth, we do not disagree.
“I like Boston even though they don’t have home court,” they add. It will be the Celtics’ first series against a team with higher seeding in the postseason, having grabbed second place in the standings after the Bucks conceded it.
“They won their biggest game of the year on (Milwaukee’s) home court against the world champs.”
“I just think Miami doesn’t have quite enough,” they continue. “It’s Butler, Butler, Butler, and then who else? Tyler Herro, he’s averaged, what, 14 (points), in the playoffs?”
“That’s not going to do it in this series. He’s got to be better. Philadelphia did a decent job on him, but Tyler Herro’s got to rise to the occasion, and I’m not convinced he’s going to be a real productive number two to get them to the finals. He has to be. He hasn’t shown that yet.”
“(If Kyle Lowry isn’t healthy), are the Heat going to win it with Gabe Vincent as their starting point guard?” ponders the scout.
“Bam Adebayo’s an All-Star level player, but Boston’s got four centers,” relates the faceless talent assessor in reference to the Celtics’ deep frontcourt.
“Al Horford can play center, and Grant Williams, Daniel Theis, and Robert Williams III (can too). … I think the Adebayo factor is going to be somewhat neutralized.”
With two top-rated defenses, scoring will come at a premium for both teams. As for how that will play out, the scout believes the best player on the court will be a major factor; ” Jayson Tatum has shown he’s certainly up to the task.”
“But Jayson Tatum also has a running partner in Jaylen Brown, and if Jaylen Brown’s my No. 2, I like that situation better than Tyler Herro being my No. 2. Jaylen Brown is erratic, but he’s been in five Game 7s, so he’s got a little more experience than Herro. The Celtics have Marcus Smart, so right now, you have to give Boston the edge at point guard. … And who can (be competently assigned to) guard Jimmy Butler? Grant Williams can guard him. Marcus Smart can guard him. Jayson Tatum can guard him. Jaylen Brown can guard him. They’ve got guys who can guard him, and they were the best defensive team in the league.”
“I think Miami may have a little trouble scoring,” they add. ‘Miami can put P.J. Tucker on Tatum, and Jimmy Butler can guard Tatum. But I just think Boston’s got more.”
Coaching is certainly a factor with Boston’s Ime Udoka in his very first conference finals compared to Miami’s Erik Spoelstra being a frequent flyer of sorts at these lofty postseason altitudes.
“You’ve got to give Miami the edge in coaching just because of Erik Spoelstra’s experience and his demonstrated excellence,” explained the Scout. “But Boston’s on a high. They’re confident.”
“They almost screwed up that series (vs. Milwaukee), but they managed to come back in very convincing fashion and showed that they’re a championship-level team.”
The anonymous opposing coach is even more bullish; “I think Boston is going to win the NBA championship, and the reason I say that is because I like how they are jelling at the right time,” they relate.
“I like their defensive mindset. I think they come into every game thinking defense. They’ve put a lot of emphasis on their defense. They take pride in it, and they have certain guys that know, ‘This is what I do defensively.’ And not only do those guys play defense, but they also are playing offense at a high rate. And I’m talking about Grant Williams, who’s supposed to be a defender and ends up having seven 3s in Game 7, and Marcus Smart.”
“Now, the problem with Marcus Smart is he could play you into the game as well as he could play you out of the game sometimes with his aggressive offensive approach,” they suggest — and correctly, in our assessment.
The coach is also impressed with how Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have settled into their 1a and 1b roles with the team. “They know their roles. They’re a defensive team,” the faceless coach surmises.
“Their offense goes through Tatum, Brown, and then the other guys are making shots. If Robert Williams is healthy and defending and running and rolling as he can, they’re tough to beat.”
The only one of the three to pick the Heat, the anonymous front office denizen points to their depth, with a dash of waffling due to the Kyle Lowry hamstring injury that has been lingering.
“I will say it’s going to be Miami in seven, and the home-court advantage is going to be the reason why, and that’s what the Heat fought for all year, and they earned it. The team that can protect its home court (will win this series), and the Heat have the right types of players with the right types of experiences to match up with Boston players.”
“The Celtics have youth but their players are kind of coming into their own, but they’ve been in those situations before,” they explain.
Claiming that “it’s not an indictment of Boston’s place in the league but rather just the Heat’s depth and the fact that they have the home court,” we understand how one might come to such a conclusion.
In the regular season, the Heat managed to stay afloat during some rough early patches — and then stormed up the standings to grab the top seed.
And while it will not be a sweep, we think, as it was in the first round against the Nets for the Celtics, we have to side with the consensus given that as good as Miami’s depth and defense have been, Boston’s has been better.
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