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Heat vs. Celtics Eastern Conference Finals roundtable breaking down series

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The Bet the Edge crew talk expectations for the Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics series, discussing the importance of Jayson Tatum's performance before handing out their picks for the Conference Finals.

For NBC Sports Bet The Edge, four analysts from the NBC Sports family came together to break down the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.

The four are Kurt Helin, lead NBA writer for NBC Sports; Jay Croucher, the lead betting analyst for NBC Sports; Vaughn Dalzell a sports betting analyst for NBC Sports; and Drew Dinsick an NFL, NBA, Tennis Handicapper with NBC Sports.

Let’s jump into the discussion.

Jay Croucher: We thought the pandemic was over but it is not, we are back in the bubble with rematches of the 2020 Conference Finals.

Let’s get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, where I want to start with this is that with 4:30 left in Game 6 of Boston vs. Philadelphia, the Sixers are up two, Tyrese Maxey missed the 3, next possession they have they have another chance to extend the lead to five but James Harden misses a step-back 3. At that point, the Sixers were -155 to win the Eastern Conference — not just win the game win but to win the Eastern Conference. And Jason Tatum was on track for possibly the worst game that a good player has played in the playoffs since... I don’t know, one of the LeBron vs. Dallas finals games in 2011? One of the James Harden close-out games of which there are many?

It changes pretty quickly, and now the Celtics all of a sudden — off of Tatum’s 51— they are in the Eastern Conference Finals. They play Miami there for the third time in four years. Kurt, this one the market thinks is fairly done and dusted. The Celtics are -500 favorites. Do you think that Miami has a prayer in this one?

Kurt Helin: First, Daryl Morey would like to thank you for making his case for firing Doc Rivers.

Yeah, I think the market is right about Miami in this. I wonder how long this will go because talk about the team that doesn’t show up for games — it’s the Celtics. , They just mail some in, and the Heat will bring it every night.

They will play hard, but I think this is the series where not having the secondary shot creation of Tyler Herro really hurts them. Jimmy Butler is going to do Jimmy Butler things, but I think with Jaylen Brown, with Jayson Tatum, with Marcus Smart, with a wealth of defenders they can throw at Butler, you can slow him down. Bam Adebayo is going to have a good game here and there. They’ll get a good Max Strus game, and shout out to my boy Gabe Vincent — go UC Santa Barbara Gauchos— I just don’t believe in them doing it enough against the Celtics.

But I still think this will probably go something like six just because Boston will mail two in.

Drew Dinsick: I think you have to say coaching advantage pretty clearly in favor of the Heat here, Joe Mazzulla didn’t really do anything, in my opinion, to get the Celtics across the line other than just kind of let Tatum cook in Game 7.

And honestly, the fact that Doc Rivers did not have an answer for the Tatum pick-and-roll, even through seven games in that series… I thought for sure they got would have had some adjustments, some wrinkles, make some changes at halftime. What are we doing here? And then just to see it unfold that way in that third quarter was wild on Sunday.

But the Celtics are a tough handicap because, as you mentioned, not only do they have some coaching deficiencies, but they do have some effort lapses at times. You put these teams on paper side by side and you compare talent in terms of who’s available and it’s just an overwhelming advantage Celtics. But, at the same time, -500 seems a little bit aggressive in giving them that type of expectations in this series.

This is now effectively the rubber match of an Eastern Conference Finals. We had Heat/Celtics in the bubble, that went to the Heat. Last year went to the Celtics. Vaughn How do you look at this in terms of kind of matchup of coaching and player strength and just familiarity between these two teams and come away with a handicap?

Vaughn Dalzell: Mazzulla is definitely going to have to keep his as timeouts in his pockets... psych. He needs to start using his timeouts. That was an issue for me in the last round. I definitely thought the inexperience or the freshness of him being there for the first season came into play.

But I’ve also noticed that Boston game ones have been very lackluster and they get in track meets, and sometimes they don’t take their opponent as seriously in that first game let them hang around. But Miami is a team where you can’t let that happen, because Miami’s 5-0 in their last five game ones. They’ve won two straight road game ones, while Boston is 1-4 in their last five game ones outside of the first round. So they really struggle they’ve been favorites in every situation.

I know Jimmy Butler didn’t score 30 points at all and that last series against the Knicks, but he still averages 31 in the postseason. With no value on the Celtics right now at the series price I do like the Heat in Game 1. I think the Heat can steal two of the first three games, or two of the first four, if the Heat go up 2-1 in the series I’m absolutely going back on the Celtics series price because I think the Celtics have a significant advantage with the big man compared to the Heat. When you’re looking at the Heat with Kevin Love, [Cody] Zeller, [Haywood] Highsmith, those type of guys, you definitely want to favor Robert Williams, Al Horford and the rest of the Celtics.

I do think the Heat can shoot, a lot of money is coming in on the over here. I think that’s warranted as well. I liked the Heat in Game 1.

Jay Croucher: I’m on the Celtics. I love them in the series, I love them in Game 1.

Miami, they get a lot better if they can play Kevin Love and Duncan Robinson and get away with Highsmith and Zeller and having those guys on the floor. And I think that the fact that they were able to do that against two teams in Milwaukee and New York, who don’t really have guys who kind of hunt a Kevin Love on a switch. Jalen Brunson beats you more with strength than with guile. It’s not like guys like Tatum and Brown who just hunt your worst defender. They hunt Tyrese Maxey. They hunt George Niang, whoever is there, they’re going to punish them every possession and so I think the Heat had been a bit inflated by the fact that those guys were playable.

And then also I think they were inflated by the fact that they just shot 45% from 3 against Milwaukee and Jimmy Butler was the best player on planet Earth. He is now, by Erik Spoelstra’s own admission, he’s still dealing with the ankle and he didn’t look the same guy against the Knicks that he was in the first series. I think the Celtics, yes, they’re gonna play with their food, they’re probably going to drop one, they might drop two. But still, you just think the talent gap here is just so substantial.

Kurt, there is a line of thinking that the Heat, last year they were the No.1 seed, they were one shot away, they were a Jimmy Butler 3 away from making the finals and beating this team. And there was a thought that maybe you have to regress this Heat team back to just saying that they were last year where they were one seed. Do you think this team this year is substantially worse than last year’s version?

Kurt Helin: First of all, thank you for getting the ‘play with your food’ right and not doing a Doc Rivers there.

I don’t think they’re quite as good offensively. I want to give Bam credit, he didn’t have that floater two years ago. That little 12-foot floater that he developed, basically to shoot over Brook Lopez but he developed it and it is a valuable weapon. Now you get him 14 feet out and he will just nail it every time. I think they miss P.J. Tucker and the things P.J. Tucker brings — which we saw in the first quarter of Game 7 (against Boston). Like I said they really miss Tyler Herro, they just don’t have the same depth of shot creation. I think that when you talk about with the Lakers and Nuggets, one of the things that really works for those teams is so many guys can create on both teams.

The Heat just don’t have that. They rely on Gabe Vincent to be the secondary shot creator and I think that that’s not enough against Boston. They fight like heck, but I just don’t think that depth of talent.

Drew Dinsick: I’m in the same boat here as sort of our last breakdown which is I just don’t see any realistic matchup that the Heat have an advantage in outside of coaching.

And yet, at the same time, I’m struggling making sense of this price. Like -500 for the Celtics is basically saying this is no contest and The Heat, for whatever reason, have the intangibles over the Celtics. It doesn’t serve the Celtics well to be such huge favorites. They need a little bit of adversity it feels like to bring out the best of these guys. And you know, if the Heat steal one during these first couple of games, then all of a sudden the pressure is going to be on the Celtics, and maybe we see their best. Just thinking about the way that Spoelstra can pull some wizardry into the series, it has me a little trepidatious about getting super involved in the Celtics until we know exactly what level of effort we’re going to get from these guys.

Jay Croucher: It is concerning but at the same time, I just think talent is going to overwhelm, where Spoelstra is coaching the four of us really.

The thing is with the Celtics, it feels like they no-show a lot of games, but I wonder how much of that is just that they take a lot of 3s, and when the 3s don’t fall they just look terrible. Because a lot of their team is is Tatum hitting that step-back 3 to his right because if that’s going in at 25% like it was in the Finals last year, then it’s just not a very good offense relative to what it can be. But if he is making those shots — like he was in Game 7 — then they’re just completely unbeatable.

So let’s close out quickly with some predictions. I’m gonna go Celtics in five.

Vaughn Dalzell: I’m going Celtics in six.

Drew Dinsick: Celtics in seven. I think we’re in for two long series this round. I don’t think either of these is a pushover.

Kurt Helin: I’ll take the Celtics at five, I just I think they’re going to overwhelm the Heat.