Three keys to a Boston Celtics Eastern Conference quarterfinal victory over the Miami Heat

It is now official that the Boston Celtics will face the Miami Heat in the first round NBA Playoffs after an embarrassing 112-91 blowout by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Play-In tournament.

The Celtics enter this series as pretty heavy favorites, especially due to Jimmy Butler’s injury against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Heat’s first Play-In game. But anything can happen in the playoffs, and Miami is no stranger to the first round.

If the C’s want to make it to the NBA Finals, they need to set the tone early in the playoffs to build momentum for the next rounds. To do that, the Celtics will have to accomplish a number of things against the Miami Heat.

The C’s had a historic offensive season, thanks in large part to the three-point shot. They average the most attempts per game at 42.5which is three more than the second-place Dallas Mavericks with 39.5 passing attempts 38.8% of those attempts. The only team that shot the ball better from deep than the Celtics was the Oklahoma City Thunder, at 38.9%.

When those shots fall, the Celtics look almost unbeatable. But if that’s not the case, they’ll get into trouble. They are a team talented enough to win without out-of-this-world three-point numbers in a game. So if they create nice looks from deep that just don’t fall, they should look elsewhere and not live or die by the three-ball.

Boston needs to prove that this series is a talent mismatch and that last year was an outlier. Show everyone that even if the three-point attempts don’t fail, you’re still the better team. But to avoid all that, you have to rely on the way you’ve played all year, which brought you 64 wins and first place in the East, and keep getting good looks from deep, because no one can keep up with the Celtics like that is the case.

Everyone remembers the heartbreaking Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Heat last season. The Celtics were upset by Miami, and while they almost did the impossible and came back from a 3-0 deficit, that’s a series the C’s won’t forget. They were expected to win and be in the final, but they fell short.

The Heat now have a mental edge over the Celtics. They believe they can beat them because they didn’t even do that a whole year ago. And now the heat comes from a dominant win against the Bullsso they can feel even better going into this series and come in with extra momentum.

Again, Boston needs to set the tone early to get over that hump. They can’t go three games to zero again and hope for a comeback.

Of course, this Celtics team is very different from last year, and the Heat will miss Butler. But it was more the role players that killed the Celtics, and for the most part they are still around and have even improved with the likes of Jaime Jaquez Jr.; Not to mention, Nikola Jović is a player who can get hot and have a Caleb Martin-like run.

The Celtics need to take away the Heat’s confidence and send them packing early. No one wants a repeat of last season, or even anything close to it.

With Jimmy Butler out, Bam Adabayo is now the Heat’s best player. Of course, as we learned last year, anyone can do damage if he or she gets hot enough. But Bam is always good for this Heat team, and he will get more touches in a series without Butler.

Adebayo is also a player capable of punishing Kristaps Porziņģis’ defense. Fortunately, Porziņģis can pick Bam out of the paint in attack, where he is very effective, so there is a trade-off. Either way, if Al Horford isn’t on the floor, the Celtics need to find ways to keep Bam from not only scoring, but creating for others; because he is a skilled passer for his position.

If the Celtics can achieve these three keys, they should be set up in a way that avoids a repeat of last year’s disappointing playoff loss.