Celtics-Heat Preview: Ranking the rosters

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The Raptors made life difficult for Tatum with Kyle Lowry practically living in his jersey for much of the conference semifinals. Still, the Celtics practically begged Tatum to carry the offense throughout the series, particularly when Toronto plotted to take away Kemba Walker.

On the big Game 7 stage, Tatum responded with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists and further cemented his growing status. As Walker noted in the aftermath, "He’s a superstar. He showed it tonight. Anyone have any question or doubt on that?”




Celtics fans should start bracing themselves for the rage they’ll feel as Butler lives at the free-throw line, especially late in games. He’s a closer and Boston will want the ball in someone else’s hands with the game in the balance.

We could nitpick Butler’s overall abilities and where he ranks among the league’s elite but you can’t quibble with his resume. Now he’s the focal point in a major series and we’ll find out whether he can will a team to the championship stage.



Walker did not have a dominant offensive series against the Raptors, averaging just 17 points per game, all while shooting just 27.7 percent beyond the 3-point arc. And yet Walker’s importance to Boston’s offense cannot be overstated. Through two rounds of the playoffs, the Celtics’ offensive rating is 112.2 with Walker on the court  —  tops among regulars — and plummets to a team-worst 98.1 during his 125 minutes on the bench.

Toronto thought enough of Walker that it trotted out a box-and-1 late in the series and pretty much challenged Tatum and Jaylen Brown to beat them instead. The Celtics will need Walker’s more typical offensive output to thrive in this series.


Miami’s perimeter shooting puts so much stress on defenders to stay close and Adebayo is often the beneficiary of the space created. He can rim run on drives and catch easy lobs, or he’s strong enough with the ball to attack off the dribble and use his springiness to finish near the rim. There’s a nine minute video compilation of all Adebayo’s dunks this season.

For the playoffs, he’s averaging 16.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. Defensively, his athleticism makes up for the size he gives up and that will force Boston to make some tough decisions on their center rotation (can Robert Williams hold up for long stretches?) Unlike in the Miami series when the Celtics could exploit Marc Gasol minutes, the Celtics will be challenged by Adebayo’s defensive versatility.








It’s easy to suggest that Pascal Siakam simply had a bad series against Boston but Brown deserves a lot of credit for Siakam’s struggles. The Celtics deployed Brown as the primary defender against Toronto’s All-Star forward and Brown routinely frustrated him with his ability to hold up physically around the basket. This while Brown quietly averaged 20.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game against the Raptors.

Brown spent a whole bunch of time on Bam Adebayo during the regular-season meetings and will likely get plenty of reps this series, all while having to deal with Butler in spots as well. We debated flip-flopping Adebayo and Brown in these spots, especially after Brown’s little groin tweak in Game 7, but we’ll see if it hinders him at all. 







If Gordon Hayward is able to return during this series, there’s a chance Smart shuffles back to a reserve role (though Brad Stevens could consider using Hayward off the bench, too). But Smart might have been Boston’s MVP in the second-round win over the Raptors.

Forget the absurd 3-point shooting last round, Smart’s defensive efforts against Kyle Lowry helped Boston survive that series (only nine of Lowry’s team-high 145 points in the second round were scored against Smart, who held Lowry scoreless in their matchup time during Game 7). In a series between two of the best defenses in the playoffs, it feels like Smart will be vital again. 






We were tempted to put Dragic a few spots higher on this list based solely on his history of tormenting the Celtics. He’s part of the Celtics-killer All-Stars roster with Khris Middleton and Ish Smith. Dragic might still be upset with Boston after waiving his brother, Zoran, after acquiring him in a trade with, ironically, the Heat. More likely, Dragic is just plain good and he's averaging 21.1 points per game in the playoffs while shooting 38.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc on 7 attempts per game.

For all the attention on Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson as 3-point threats, Dragic isn’t afraid to fire away — and his 17.2 total attempts per game is nearly 5 more than the next closest teammate (Butler, 12.3).





If Hayward can get healthy enough to get back on the floor, it’s a major boost for Boston, particularly given his success against the Heat during the regular season. Even while winning seven playoff games without him, the Celtics have missed Hayward’s presence, particularly as someone who could be a focal point with reserve groups.

It’s easy to forget but, before his injury, Hayward was averaging 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, all while shooting nearly 50 percent during Boston’s bubble stay.




Celtics fans don’t need a scouting report to know what Crowder will bring: Gritty defense and solid 3-point shooting. The Heat have often deployed him against the toughest of matchups. He spent 18 matchup minutes defending Giannnis Antetokounmpo (25 points, 9-22 FG) and another 17 minutes on Khris Middleton (35 points, 15-38 FG) last round.

Before that, he spent 15 matchup minutes on Victor Oladipo (21 points, 7-16 FG) and another 7.5 minutes on TJ Warren (19 points, 9-14 FG). Maybe that’s why his on/off splits numbers aren’t all that impressive but his defensive impact is undeniable.



We’re giving Theis the nod here because of how vital he’s been to Boston’s postseason success and how important it will be for him to hold up without fouling against Adebayo. We considered Tyler Herro in this spot, particularly given some of the big-time shots he hit last round. Every time Herro hits a 3-pointer this round, it’ll be a reminder to Celtics fans that he came off the board one spot before Boston was on the clock.

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