The Eastern Conference Finals tip-off tonight with the top-seeded Miami Heat taking on the second-seeded Boston Celtics. For Miami, they'll be looking to move on to NBA Finals after their appearance in the 2020 Finals during the NBA bubble in which they were unable to capture their first title since 2013. Boston will look to continue to stay hot, which they've done over the last several months, and make their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010. Now that the stage is set, let's get into the series preview and my official predictions for the 2022 ECF.
The top two seeds in the Eastern Conference will face off for the right to play in the NBA Finals, although these are the top two seeds, they both had a different path to ECF. Miami was dominant all regular season long, posting a 53-29 record, and holding the top seed in the East for the majority of the regular season. Meanwhile, the Celtics opened the season struggling, holding a record of 23-24 just over halfway through the regular season. After much of their roster returned from injury or Covid protocols, the Celtics went on a tear finishing the season at 51-31 and locking down the second seed in the East. The Heat and Celtics are familiar conference foes, facing off in the playoffs multiple times within the last decade, and clashing head-to-head in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals while in the bubble. The core of these two teams remains primarily the same from that 2020 series, however, the ascension of Boston’s young stars makes this a completely different series. Both of these teams pride themselves on their physicality and their defensive ability. Both of these teams were in the top three for points allowed per game and ranked top three in defensive efficiency. Something to note however about Miami and Boston’s defense is how often they switch when put in pick-and-roll situations. Boston has the highest switch rate of all playoff teams at over fifty percent, while Miami is in the top five at forty percent. Both of these teams will be looking to allow their talented wing players to take advantage of mismatches on the perimeter to lead their team to victory. For Miami, the offense is likely to continue to be run through Jimmy Butler, as Point Guard Kyle Lowry is still sidelined with a hamstring injury. Butler is leading the Heat in the playoffs in both scoring (28.7 PPG) and assists (5.4 APG), but he’ll need someone to step up on the offensive end of the floor against Boston’s tough defense. For the Celtics, their young star wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will continue to lead the way. Tatum has cemented himself as one of the league’s young stars during this playoff run, averaging over twenty-eight points per game in the playoffs, including a forty-six-point performance in an elimination game against the defending champion Bucks. Meanwhile, his All-Star teammate Jaylen Brown has averaged twenty-two points per game and is Boston’s clear number two scoring threat. Another large factor going into this series will be the ability of both teams from the three-point line. Boston dominated the three-point battle in the second round against Milwaulkee and as a team is shooting the three-ball at thirty-seven percent during the playoffs. Miami on the other hand has been streaky, as their three-point percentage has dropped from nearly thirty-eight percent in the regular season (37.9%) to just over thirty-two percent (32.1%) in the playoffs.
The Heat and Celtics are both extremely talented and get after it on the defensive end of the floor, however, I think that Boston has too much offensive firepower and Miami doesn’t have enough to win this series. After Jimmy Butler’s twenty-eight point-per-game average in the playoffs, the Heat experience a severe dropoff, as their next leading scorer is Bam Adebayo at just over fourteen and a half points per game (14.6). Boston has three players averaging fifteen points or more per game in the playoffs and has also had large scoring outbursts from veteran Al Horford during their playoff run. If Miami is going to win this series they’ll desperately need Kyle Lowry back and at one hundred percent, and will need to dominate the boards, one of the few “weaknesses” of the Celtics, who ranked thirteenth in offensive rebounds allowed per game during the regular season.
Boston advances to their first NBA Finals since 2010, and eliminates the Heat in six games, while Jayson Tatum takes home the inaugural Larry Bird, Eastern Conference Finals MVP trophy.
*All stats were received from NBA.com and ESPN'S stats & info. department