The Celtics and the Heat weren’t necessarily the teams that most fans and league observers expected to square off in the Eastern Finals this season, but the conference’s No. 3 and No. 5 seeds will fight for the right to play in the NBA Finals after knocking off the top two clubs in the East, Milwaukee and Toronto.
It’s a fascinating matchup, and one with no obvious favorite. The oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag currently list the Celtics at -137 for the series, meaning you’d have to risk $137 on a bet to win $100. That makes the Heat the slight underdogs at +118.
However, the Heat were the more impressive of the two teams in the second round, dispatching the top-seeded Bucks with relative ease in a five-game series. Miami held Giannis Antetokounmpo reasonably in check until he was sidelined with an ankle injury. And Jimmy Butler led a balanced offensive attack that saw four players – Butler, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, and Jae Crowder – average at least 15 PPG, while Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kelly Olynyk stretched the floor.
The Heat’s 113.0 offensive rating was second among the eight teams in the second round, behind only the Lakers, and their 106.6 defensive rating was the best of any team not involved in the Boston/Toronto series. Miami’s play in that impressive second-round win is a big reason why 11 of 22 experts at ESPN.com, including Bobby Marks, Tim MacMahon, and Ramona Shelburne, are picking the Heat to knock off the Celtics and make the NBA Finals.
The Celtics won’t be an easy out by any means though. Boston’s offense is a little more well-rounded than Milwaukee’s attack, with a number of players handling play-making responsibilities — if Kemba Walker doesn’t have it going, as was the case in the last two games of the second round against Toronto, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and even Marcus Smart can step up and shoulder the bulk of the scoring duties.
And while the Bucks had the NBA’s best defense during the regular season, the Heat will be tasked in the Eastern Finals with solving the defense that has ranked first overall during the postseason so far. The Celtics’ defensive rating in the playoffs is 101.9, including an eye-popping 100.3 mark in their seven games vs. the Raptors. Underrated center Daniel Theis helps anchor the unit, which is versatile, switchable, and features several dangerous perimeter defenders in Smart, Tatum, and Brown.
With Game 1 of the series set to tip off in a matter of hours, we want you to weigh in with your two cents. Who do you think will win this series? The Celtics or the Heat? How many games do you expect it take? And do you think either club has a legit shot to win the NBA Finals?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section to explain your pick!
Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.