NBA Film Room: What Could Decide Celtics-Heat Matchup

James Harden, Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, NBA
NBA Analysis Network

The Eastern Conference Finals looks to be a blast from the past. Two of the NBA’s best defenses will face off in what promises to be a grinding, low-scoring series.

The Boston Celtics survived in seven games against the defending champions. Making their way past Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Boston now must face a defensive juggernaut in Miami.

The Miami Heat handled the Hawks in five and a depleted Sixers team with relative ease. They haven’t faced a tough challenge yet this postseason, but the Celtics will certainly prove to be one.

There are so many interesting match-ups in this series and so many players who could prove to be the key. There are two things I’ll be watching for, that could decide how this series finishes.

Bam Adebayo: The Offensive Hub

The Boston Celtics were the best defense in the NBA this season by defensive rating. Miami, meanwhile, was a middle-of-the-pack offense, finishing 12th with a 113 O-Rating.

The key to Miami unlocking the Celtics’ staunch defense is undoubtedly Bam Adebayo.

It starts with passing.

In Miami’s last match-up with Boston, a win in late March, Bam Adebayo chipped in 8 assists. Many were dribble hand-offs to shooters flying up the wing.

The first two assists, though, are more like the one’s I’ll be watching for in this series. Bam Adebayo is an excellent passer from the top of the key. He can see the entire floor, and Miami’s cutters can work to confuse Boston’s defenders with a series of screens and cuts. When Boston focuses too much on those actions though, Bam’s dribble hand-offs come into the fold.

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The Lowry three at 7:35 in the fourth is a great example. Lowry fakes a screen for Herro, forcing Tatum to focus on handling that action. Lowry then aborts into a dribble hand-off with Bam, which leads to a good look from three.

Being an offensive hub is more than passing though – and the key to dominance in this series for Bam will be his scoring. Bam will receive the ball near the top of the key/free throw line-area plenty. The big question is whether he can score from there:

That shot will be there. Can he hit it? If not – can he make the defense pay with a drive and finish? Bam has shown the ability to do both of those in his career. Against Boston’s smothering defense, he’ll need to be a reliable scorer to open things up for Miami.

Will Jayson Tatum get to the rim?

Jayson Tatum is an incredible player – offensively and defensively. When his three-pointer is falling, as it was last series, he is practically unguardable.

But when his three-pointer is not falling – he just keeps shooting it.

Jayson Tatum is huge. He’s a talented and creative finisher, has a tight handle, and can make his way to the rim pretty consistently. Still, he has a tendency to fall in love with his three-pointer. When it’s falling, it looks great, as it did in the Bucks series. When it’s not, it can look bad, like above.

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Against a great defensive team like Miami, Tatum can’t settle. He might get worn down by the defense of PJ Tucker, Jimmy Butler, or Bam Adebayo. But he can’t settle.

This is what happens when Tatum drives:

Tatum had 9 shots within 5 feet last game versus the Miami Heat. He also had 9 field goals made in the game. That’s no coincidence.

Tatum’s size and strength are incredible for a player of his skillset. When he settles for three, he’s letting the defense relax. He’s giving them something they’ll gladly take. When Tatum drives to the rim, he’s extremely difficult to stop. His improved passing can shine. He can draw help, and free teammates like Grant Williams for looks similar to those he got against Milwaukee.

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If Tatum’s threes are falling – that’s nice for Boston. But Tatum’s three-point shooting should not be his first look. He brings so much more to Boston’s offense when he’s aggressive.

Against a defense as good as the Miami Heat – Jayson Tatum’s aggression will be the difference between a win and a loss for the Boston Celtics.