The Eastern Conference finals matchup is set with the Miami Heat taking on the Boston Celtics.
The Crossover staff makes their Eastern Conference predictions and weigh in on how the two teams will fare against each other.
Chris Mannix: Celtics over Heat in six
Miami is cooking right now. It beat up on Indiana and ousted the top-seeded Bucks in five games. But Boston presents a different kind of challenge. The Celtics are loaded with defensive-minded wings, led by Marcus Smart. Jimmy Butler’s 37-point effort against Boston last December? Smart missed that game with an injury. The Celtics are fresh off shutting down Pascal Siakam, while Kyle Lowry struggled in the stretches Boston unleashed Smart on him. Butler powers everything Miami does, and the Celtics are uniquely equipped to defend him. And while Erik Spoelstra dominated the coaching matchup against Milwaukee, matching wits with Brad Stevens, who has the kind of versatile, switch-happy defense to counter a lot of what Miami does, could prove more difficult. Boston took both regular-season matchups against the Heat; I think they’ll take this series, too.
Rohan Nadkarni: Celtics over Heat in six
This is a toss-up series, and it's hard to get a grasp for this matchup because the rosters for these teams looked much different in their previous matchups. While Miami was a perfect counter for what the Bucks wanted to do, Boston is a much trickier opponent. The Heat’s defense can’t key in on one person as it did with Giannis in Round 2. And the Celtics have the wings, discipline and aggressive style of play to slow down Miami on the perimeter. If Gordon Hayward returns sooner rather than later, that could also put a dent into the advantage Miami has depth-wise.
Ultimately, I'm picking Boston because this group has a little more experience together than Miami’s. The Marcus Smart–Jayson Tatum–Jaylen Brown trio were in a conference finals only two years ago, pushing LeBron James to a Game 7. The Heat are experienced as individuals, but the team as a whole hasn’t been hit with a playoff obstacle yet. How will guys like Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro respond in that situation? I like what Boston can do on the wing to slow down Miami’s shooters, and I'm concerned about a couple of the matchups for the Heat’s starters—Goran Dragic on Kemba Walker and Duncan Robinson on Smart. It should be a great series, with two elite coaches engaged in a chess match of adjustments. Headed in, I think the Celtics hold the advantage.
Jeremy Woo: Heat over Celtics in seven
Miami may be the most dangerous team still in the bubble, and, more importantly, the Heat are playing like they know it. But I expect this to be about as tight a series as you can get, and Boston showed a ton of resolve in beating a more experienced Toronto team. Ultimately, I think Bam Adebayo will swing the series with his defensive versatility and ability to switch up ball-screen coverages—Walker and Tatum will have a tougher time attacking him on switches and hedges, and the Heat will be able to throw different looks at them without straying from their best lineup. Late in games, the Raptors often had to go smaller against Boston. Miami can close with Bam, and has Andre Iguodala, Butler and Jae Crowder to handle the Celtics’ wings. The matchup chess should be fun to watch, and my gut says the Heat will squeeze it out.
Michael Rosenberg: Celtics over Heat in seven
This might feel like the undercard. I don’t see it that way. I think whoever wins will be competitive in the Finals. The Heat have played more consistently than Boston, and Erik Spoelstra will spot any matchup advantage as the series progresses. The biggest challenge for the Celtics (besides Jimmy Butler) might be integrating Gordon Hayward back into the lineup whenever he is healthy. But if they do, they have more ways to win.
Melissa Rohlin: Celtics over Heat in seven
The Heat are playing with a lot of tenacity. They eliminated the top-seeded team in the East and have proved that they've been underrated and overlooked for far too long. I'm guessing this will be a long, hard-fought series, but the Heat's determination will hit a wall against the Celtics' talent.
Michael Shapiro: Celtics over Heat in six
The Heat are likely to face a similar challenge as the Raptors against Boston’s collection of wings, with questions remaining regarding Miami’s ability to create quality looks late in games. Butler could see some regression with his jumper. Boston should be ready to swarm Robinson. Spoelstra remains critically underrated, and the Heat’s toughness and intelligence will make this a close series. But Boston’s top-end talent will be too much for a young Miami team presently ahead of schedule.
Elizabeth Swinton: Celtics over Heat in Six
It would not be surprising to see this series go the distance, but the Celtics' battle-tested journey this postseason may pay dividends against the Heat. Miami knocked off the No. 1 and 4 seeds in the bubble largely behind strong defense and perimeter shooting, but Boston is not a team to underestimate defensively, either. Offensively, Tatum and Brown have risen to the occasion, while the Celtics can expect Hayward to return at some point during the series. Miami has depth on its side, and Butler is a key weapon, but Boston can set itself apart by shutting down the Heat's three-point threat and closing out games convincingly.
Ben Pickman: Celtics over Heat in six games
As the lone member of the Crossover staff who selected the Celtics to make the finals before the postseason, I’m not going to bet against them now. Tatum rose to the moment in Game 7 against the Raptors, and while the Heat have a number of wings that can try and contain Tatum (and the rest of Boston’s wings), the Duke product very well could be the best player in the series. The Raptors contained Walker in the final two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but the UConn product is due for a breakout performance. Throw in Hayward as an x-factor, who is expected to return sometime in this series, and Boston has enough top-end talent and depth to advance.
Shandel Richardson: Heat over Celtics in six
The Heat are the hottest team in the NBA right now. After making quick work of the Pacers and Bucks, Butler and Adebayo will will them to the franchise's sixth NBA Finals. The Heat are simply too deep for any team in the Eastern Conference.
Robin Lundberg: Heat over Celtics in seven
To be honest, I have no idea. And if you asked me one minute from now, I might switch my pick. That's how evenly matched these two teams seem on paper. I do wonder whether Boston might negate what we've seen from Miami thus far these playoffs with their wing depth, particularly Brown and Smart. And with Jayson Tatum emerging as a go-to scorer, it was tough to go against the Celtics. However, I trust Butler more than anyone in the series when it comes to crunch time and, with Dragic playing at an All-Star level, Adebayo being a true difference maker and the Heat's overall versatility and shooting, I ever so slightly lean Miami.