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Bear in mind the final time the Warmth and Celtics squared off within the Japanese Convention finals? It was in 2020, once we have been all caught inside and NBA gamers have been within the bubble at Disney World. Jayson Tatum obtained blocked on the rim by Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic had the collection of his life, Jimmy Butler was promoting espresso, and the Warmth received in six. Two years later, right here we’re once more, with the Warmth and Celtics set to tip off on Tuesday, 230 miles south of Disney in Miami. A lot has modified.

Solely 4 Miami gamers who earned minutes in that bubble matchup stay on the crew: Adebayo, Butler, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson, who began each recreation in that collection however is now incomes DNP-CDs. The Celtics retain six gamers who appeared then: Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Sensible, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Daniel Theis. The younger guys are all far more seasoned now. Brad Stevens is now not the coach. It’s now Ime Udoka, and their scheme has utterly modified.

Two years in the past, Herro dropped 37 factors off the bench in Sport 4 by attacking Kemba Walker and Brad Wanamaker whereas Boston performed drop protection with Theis or Williams sagging into the paint. Herro was capable of pull up for jumpers time and again with a tiny man making an attempt to contest his shot.

However that choice isn’t round anymore. Not solely has Sensible blossomed into the Defensive Participant of the Yr, but in addition, and extra importantly, the Celtics don’t have any weak hyperlinks anymore. Derrick White is likely one of the higher defensive guards within the league. Payton Pritchard is small however feisty. They usually play a special fashion. This season, the Celtics switched on screens greater than some other crew, which was a calling card of the league-best protection that has carried them deep into the postseason. When Tatum and Al Horford have defended a pick-and-roll this postseason, they’re permitting a microscopic 0.25 factors per play. That’s an outlier quantity that ranks first out of the 95 mixtures who’ve defended no less than 25 pick-and-rolls in the course of the playoffs, based on Second Spectrum. If we embody the previous 5 postseasons, it’d nonetheless rank first. Herro received’t face a smaller guard on the perimeter or a giant within the paint. It’ll probably be a swap, no less than to start out the collection. If Herro and different Miami ball handlers are capable of get into the paint for open photographs or pressure the protection to break down resulting in kick-outs for open 3s, then Boston should modify.

We simply watched the Sixers blitz Herro all collection, utilizing stress to pressure him into some sloppy turnovers. It was a pick-your-poison downside, although. Butler ended up roasting Philadelphia, generally on account of the stress on Herro by slipping screens to roll inside, slicing, or just ending up with a neater matchup towards a scrambled protection.

All through the playoffs, Butler has been integral to Miami’s success, averaging 28.7 factors and 5.4 assists. The Warmth have outscored groups by 118 factors within the 374 minutes he’s been on the ground and been outscored by 12 in his 154 minutes on the bench. Solely Max Strus has a higher level differential for the Warmth this postseason, which is a testomony to his two-way play and hustle on protection. Plus, he’s such a powerful taking pictures risk he took Robinson’s beginning spot.

However we’ve seen how defenses can take away what labored for the Warmth within the common season. Strus popped on 82 % of the screens he set in the course of the season, scoring 0.96 factors per probability. That’s all the way down to 62 % and 0.62 factors per probability in the course of the playoffs, based on Second Spectrum. With groups switching extra screens and handoffs, the probabilities to get straightforward factors whereas strolling behind the 3-point line simply aren’t there as typically.

The Warmth confronted a subpar Hawks crew within the first spherical and the Sixers have a worse protection than the Celtics, who’ve speedy bigs in each Williamses, a positional grasp like Horford, and a bunch of hard-nosed, long-armed wing defenders. In the meantime, the Celtics needed to get by means of Kevin Durant and the Nets within the first spherical and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the reigning champs within the second.

Towards the Nets, the Celtics defenders caught like glue to Durant, denying him the ball when he tried to get open whereas serving to off non-shooters like Bruce Brown and Andre Drummond. Durant shot below 40 % from the sphere for the primary time in a playoff collection since 2016. Brooklyn obtained swept. Subsequent spherical, Boston was tremendous with leaving Brook Lopez and different teammates open outdoors so long as it meant stopping Giannis from getting straightforward drives into the paint. Giannis averaged 33.9 factors, however they got here on 45.5 % taking pictures, his worst subject aim proportion because the Raptors constructed a wall towards him in 2018-19 on their strategy to a championship.

Butler, Herro, and Kyle Lowry (if he’s capable of return) are in for a brand new problem. Count on P.J. Tucker and Gabe Vincent to obtain the same lack of consideration because the Bucks’ position gamers did. The Celtics will as a substitute prioritize stopping Butler from attending to his spots, and when he, Herro, or one other ball handler has possession they are going to gladly assist off to discourage drives inside.

Perhaps the Warmth will mud off Robinson so as to add taking pictures on the ground, however that may current the identical concern we noticed the Celtics exploit final spherical towards the Bucks once they attacked Grayson Allen. Robinson is a good greater legal responsibility on protection and Boston would endlessly hunt him, even when Miami is much better at countering with blitzes than Milwaukee.

Nonetheless, the Warmth boast the very best protection the Celtics have confronted to date within the playoffs. They’re additionally a switch-heavy crew, however they blitz with extra regularity. They’ll present much more challenges than both the Bucks or Nets. Neither of these groups have as many on-ball nuisances because the Warmth, who’ve Butler, Victor Oladipo, and P.J. Tucker, who has hounded Tatum and Brown all through their careers.

If Erik Spoelstra needs to, he can lean on defensive-oriented lineups that also present taking pictures. Think about one thing corresponding to Adebayo, Tucker, Butler, Strus and Herro. There’s a mixture of shot creation with the flexibility on protection to play totally different types. Or Oladipo might substitute Herro. So might Vincent. What’s made Miami nice all season lengthy is its adaptability. The Warmth can play totally different teams and totally different types, and nonetheless win.

Very like the Celtics, they swap on a ton of screens to muck up offenses, and forestall the kind of drive-and-kick possibilities Boston prefers to search out. By switching, they pressure isos. The Warmth allowed solely 0.9 factors per isolation run by the opponent in the course of the playoffs, rating behind solely the Celtics, per Second Spectrum. Boston was capable of exploit Milwaukee’s drop coverages, however Miami will swap a ton and pressure the Celtics into isos, on which they’ve scored at a median charge throughout each the season and playoffs.

To take one thing away, defenses normally have to offer one thing up as properly. We simply watched the Celtics launch a parade of 3s towards the Bucks, who allowed the second-highest complete within the league in the course of the season. The chief? That will be the Warmth, who allowed 41.9 % of photographs from 3, per Cleansing the Glass. Dwell by the three, die by the three may very well be the Celtics’ mantra once more this spherical, however maybe to a good higher excessive. Tatum, Brown, Sensible, and others received’t have as juicy of matchups to select on all collection. However their teammates will nonetheless be getting open photographs.

Whichever crew can higher reap the benefits of switches might come out the winner. My prediction is Celtics in six.

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