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The Picks: Miami's sensational road to the Finals is a lesson for the entire NBA - voila! sport


Highlights: Miami Heat defeated Boston Celtics 84-103 in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals. This is only the second time that an eighth-ranked team in their region has made it to the finals. It can also be noted that this is the first time that a team that has played in a play-in tournament has reached the finals, writes Julian Zelizer. Zelizer: Miami, it's worth mentioning time and time again, not only was it forced to participate in the play- in tournament following a horribly mediocre regular season, it was also very unimpressive.

History wanted Boston to win Game 7, but the message Miami's incredible journey sends to the NBA with a rotation made up of bargains in and out of the draft is just as important

Miami Heat fans celebrate after beating Boston in Game 7 to be crowned Eastern Conference champions (Twitter)

History wanted Boston to win tonight. On the agenda was a comeback from falling behind 3-0 for the first time in history after 150 unsuccessful attempts, and it seems that there is nothing in the NBA that would be considered bigger right now. A Boston win would have also made Derrick White's game-winning basket in Game 3 one of the greatest and most memorable baskets in league history. Tonight's loss left him as a wonderful moment that stands on its own but far less significant in the big picture.

History wanted a Boston victory partly because it breaks the familiar narrative, completes an interesting new story that began to be written in the Celtics' comeback. The familiar story is that Miami is the most determined and mentally strong team, the one that comes back from behind and wins close games, while Boston is the unstable team that falls apart in moments of pressure. Coming back from falling behind 0-1 has forced us to pay attention to parts that don't fit the narrative: the way Boston performs with its back against the wall, in impeachment games (until tonight it was 8-<> in impeachment games the last two years), Jayson Tatum's ascension in many of those impeachment games, Jimmy Butler's instability that can manifest itself even in very weak important games. In the end, the familiar narrative triumphed and reminded us that there is a reason why certain narratives are created.

But Miami's victory is also a historic and very rare moment. This is only the second time that an eighth-ranked team in their region has made it to the finals. It can also be noted that this is the first time that a team that has played in a play-in tournament has reached the finals. The tournament may be too young to be historically significant, but until now it seemed that participating in the play-in was creating a distraction that made it very difficult to continue the playoffs, forcing teams to concentrate efforts early and arrive tired in the first round.

Miami, it's worth mentioning time and time again, not only was it forced to participate in the play-in tournament following a horribly mediocre regular season, it was also very unimpressive in the tournament itself. They easily lost to Atlanta at home in the first game, and fell behind in the final minutes against Chicago, also at home, in the second. From that moment on, one of the most unpredictable playoff runs in NBA history began. Certainly when you consider that in the first few games of the playoffs, Miami lost two of its top guards, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo.

A different kind of history – but still history. Miami (Photo by Getty Images, Adam Glanzman)

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Miami defeated Boston 84–103 in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals

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For the final game of the Eastern Conference Finals, after Boston didn't allow him to play with interior players who couldn't guard one-on-one, Erik Spoelstra arrived with an eight-player rotation. Five of them were not selected in the draft (!!). The other three were selected 14th (Bam Adebayo), 24th (Kyle Lowry) and 30th (Jimmy Butler). Throughout the disappointing season, Miami, especially Pat Riley, could be criticized for falling in love with these players he picked up without being drafted, for not having talented enough on the roster because of dependence on them. But at the moment of truth, each and every one of them rose to the occasion and was better and more efficient than so many high-ranked players.

Against Boston, one of those players stood out. Caleb Martin, considered the least talented brother of the Martin twins, finished the Eastern Conference Finals with the following stat line: 19.3 points per game on 60.2 percent shooting from the field and 3.1 threes per game on 48.9 percent shooting. He has been one of Miami's best guards and in the last two games has made a very important contribution in defensive rebounding as well. Butler was named MVP of the series, but I believe Caleb forced voters to stop for a moment and seriously consider whether he didn't deserve it. He was the third-best player in the Eastern Conference Finals.

These figures refer to a 27-year-old player who, until the last two weeks, gave no reason to believe he was more than a marginal complementary player who occasionally rises. His throwing style is terrible, he has almost no passing ability and his decision-making can be reckless, but suddenly everything came together into one perfect series. What's even more amazing is that he has a battle for the title of best player not drafted in the regional finals, because the Lakers' Austin Reaves was just as good and important, finishing with 21.3 points on 54.9 percent shooting from the field, 3.5 threes on 56 percent shooting and 5.3 assists on 1.8 turnovers. Caleb and Reeves prove that there are quite a few players with character and abilities on the sidelines of the league, and that instead of chasing talent, clubs are better off building teams that know how to allow these types of players to manifest.

The proof to the rest of the league: Instead of chasing talent, it's better to give such players expression. Caleb Martin (Photo by Getty Images, Megan Briggs)

If in the first round against Milwaukee Miami's big story was Jimmy Butler, against Boston it was first and foremost a team job. In both series, outside shooting stood out, reaching rare numbers. Against the Bucks, Spoelstra's players made 15.4 threes per game on 45 percent shooting, against the Celtics they made 12.7 threes on 43.4 percent shooting, while shooting 14.7 threes on 47.8 percent shooting in the four wins. And this is a team that made 36.2 percent threes in the regular season, 28th in the league. Usually in the playoffs shooting percentages drop, for Miami they have jumped beyond reasonable percentages for even the best shooting teams. The level of performance of Spoelstra's players in this playoffs is rare by any standard.

Game 7 itself was anticlimactic to the drama of the series and its predecessor. Much because, in a way, it was decided on the first possession, when Jayson Tatum landed badly on Gabe Vincent's leg. Tatum deserves compliments for doing everything he could to mask the injury, but he played on one foot in this game. He didn't have the ability to break free to shoot like he's used to. That was a big problem for Boston, because it's its first offensive option, its offensive game is built on Tatum's ability to create his own shooting situations, force the defense to react and activate the team's ball-moving game. In Game 7, against an opponent devoid of true weak links on defense, an opponent who has learned an entire series of how to guard every Celtics player, losing the first option is too much.

Tatum's injury was due to misfortune, but its severity may have also been affected by the accumulated strain on his ankles. Boston has played 44 playoff games in the past two years, more than half a season. She played in four Game 7 and ten different elimination games. In the past three weeks alone, Boston has had six elimination games, including four in a row. Impeachment games require extraordinary physical and mental effort, which is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to come back from falling behind 3-0. Tatum played more than 40 minutes in each of those games, and in general in most games in the last two series.

How much can you do on one leg? Tatum (Photo by Getty Images, Maddie Meyer)

The physical and mental strain was evident on Tatum throughout the series, but even more so on Jaylen Brown. Boston's co-star has provided good, steady numbers throughout the playoffs over the past two years, including very good three-point percentages, before collapsing against Miami. He finished the series with 19 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting from the field, while shooting 16.7 percent from three-pointers. Brown and Tatum combined to shoot 18-90 from three in the series against Miami, shooting exactly 20 percent. Most of all, it is indicative of two actors who came to this series exhausted. And not only them. There were phases against Miami where Al Horford looked like a player who could no longer make a shot, and although he got back to himself a bit, Miami pretty much ignored him on the three-point line, especially when guarding the zone.

Boston brought that load on itself. In the first round, they lost Game 5 at home to Atlanta and had to win another away game. In the second round, they lost to Philadelphia twice at home, one without Joel Embiid, and needed to win Games 6 and 7 and reach the regional finals tired. She started the series against Miami with the same three losses she almost managed to bounce back from. In some of those losses it lost an advantage in the final quarter, in others it just didn't function. The combination of extreme instability and dysfunction at key moments of close games has transformed arguably the most talented squad in the league into a team that stretches its limits time and time again until it runs out.

There is no doubt that Joe Mazzola, the coach who accepted the team by default, has a part in Boston's erratic playoffs. The question is not what happened, but what Brad Stevens believes he will be, whether he believes the rookie coach will be able to learn from this playoff experience and use more experienced assistants next year. Stevens won't be in a hurry to shake up the coaching position for a fourth year in a row. On the other hand, this isn't gambling time for Boston, it's its window of opportunity, with a roster that could run together for a few more good years other than Horford, for whom Stevens will try to fish for a future replacement on the free market or through a trade. In any case, only injuries to the stars will prevent Boston from contending at the top for years to come.

From the most talented roster in the league to a collection of exhausted players. Jaylen Brown (Photo by Getty Images, Maddie Meyer)

Towards the final

A week ago we started preparing for the final between Denver and Miami, in the end this is indeed the final we will get. I'll start from the end: Denver comes into this Finals as clear favorites. She's been better all year, much more stable throughout the playoffs, showed against the Lakers that she's not afraid of stubborn opponents with great character, she has home-field advantage and in terms of matchups, it's probably the most comfortable opponent for her out of all the options in the East. Over the past five years, the teams have gone 1-9 to Denver, and Miami is usually a comfortable opponent to play against.

Analyzing a Nuggets series must start with defending Nikola Jokic. The Lakers did get a sweep, but they did give the rest of the league direction on how best to guard the Joker. The combination that worked best included a massive player, mostly in the lower body, that Jokic would have trouble moving in the post, along with an assist specialist waiting close to the paint. Miami doesn't have players with the physique of Rui Hachimura or LeBron James (they'll miss Jay Tucker in this series), even if Adebayo isn't solid enough to consistently handle Jokic in the post. This is a very big initial problem.

Spoelstra may try to put Kevin Love on Jokic early in games. Love does know how to put a body in a post and at least high enough for his presence to have meaning. But Jokic's defense isn't just in the post but also in pick n roll with Jamal Murray, and Boston just showed what happens when you attack Love consistently on pick n roll. It's so hard to deal with Denver because you need players who can manage on their own against both a post game at the highest level and a pick-n-roll game at the highest level, and if there's no choice but to bring them help, it frees up a player with the highest level of passing ability who is surrounded by players who know how to shoot from the outside and move inside in perfect coordination with him.

Love, however, is limited in the minutes he can play, so most of the time Miami will play in low lineups. Such lineups can also have a problem defending Michael Porter Jr., who makes comfortable shots against overly low guards, and rebounding. Miami's low lineups are very vulnerable on defensive rebounding, and Denver is a very good offensive rebounding team. It's one of those data that's easy to ignore but can decide a series.

Who can stop Jokic? Spoelstra will look for the answer (Photo by Getty Images, Adam Glanzman)

On the other side, Jokic could afford to keep Miami's pick-n-roll relatively low because Bam isn't threatening outside the paint. Miami will try to attack Jokic, put Denver's defense in the rotation and activate its battery of missed threes, but Mike Malone's players have proven to be very adept at those rotations. Butler will try to get Murray in substitutions (Miami is great at forcing opponents to make the substitutions it wants) and the degree to which Murray can make things difficult for him will be important. Spoelstra will likely also use the hand-off game of three-point specialists, especially Duncan Robinson, with Bam to try to force Jokic to go high or get comfortable shots. By the way, these may be the two teams with the best hand-off game in the league, it will be interesting who uses it more and who will be more efficient.

Denver's very long rest could be hampered in Game 1, but overall its freshness against Miami's fatigue (which started the playoffs with two play-in games) could be another deciding factor. The Nuggets' biggest drawback is the sparse roster, only six players Malone relies on for consistent minutes, and the big rest this six has provided for itself will help Malone give them extended minutes without worrying too much. Miami has a slightly wider rotation, which could also expand if Herro returns from his injury. The problem is that it usually only gets in the way when a pretty senior player comes back rusty from injury to a situation like this when the team is already running well without him.

The long rest will help keep the sparse rotation fresh enough. Denver (Photo by Getty Images, Allen Berezovsky)

Miami also came in as underdogs in series against Milwaukee and Boston, and proved an ability to get the most out of itself when it really matters and win away games in very difficult venues. To win, Miami will need a playoff Jimmy at his peak, as it did against Milwaukee. It's important to note that Jimmy hasn't been as dominant in the last two rounds, he's only had one game of over 30 points in both and shooting less than 7 percent from the field in 11 of his last 43 games. He, too, seems to be causing an injury and it may be limiting him. In the Finals, he will face Aaron Gordon, who has done a good job against Kevin Durant and LeBron James in the previous rounds. It's going to be very difficult for him and Miami, but that's their constant state of accumulation.

  • sport
  • NBA


  • Miami Heat
  • Boston Celtics

Source: walla

All sports articles on 2023-05-30

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