Between the Hammer and the Anvil
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have been no strangers to adversity during the 2021-2022 NBA season. From blowing a 25-point lead and losing to the New York Knicks during a below .500 season start, something Celtics coach Ime Udoka called, “a lack of mental toughness and focus,” to tempers flaring on the sideline between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler, both teams have had some issues to deal with.
Back in 2018, after losing 6 straight games at home, Erik Spoelstra said the following: “Right now, we’re between the hammer and the anvil. This is the NBA. If you expect it to just be easy, you’ve been led down the wrong road. This is not what we would like, but this is when you start to develop some character.”
Now, both teams find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals, a rematch that will surely be defensive in nature. The Celtics have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, going up against one of the most prolific scorers during this postseason run in Jimmy Butler.
“I think this series is going to come down to role players and who wants it bad enough,” says Alex Windsor, CEO of Gamble USA, a website dedicated to providing the latest information about online sportsbooks, casinos, and poker rooms regulated in the United States. “The playoffs are unpredictable, as we saw with Game 7 between the Suns and Mavericks. Anything can happen, especially with two battle-tested teams like Boston and Miami.”
Road to the Finals
The Celtics have proven themselves to be worthy of being one of the final four teams left standing. After an impressive 4-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets — a team that many believed would be in this year’s NBA Finals — and a decisive Game 7 win over the defending NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks, there is now little doubt that this team has what it takes to be serious contenders for this year’s title. Jayson Tatum has also proven to be a superstar in his own right, leading this Celtics team from that less-than-stellar start, to the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, all roads in the Eastern Conference have had to go through one city: Miami.
“The thing about the Miami Heat is that they don’t have a weakness,” says Windsor. “They have been able to develop their young players to a point where they don’t need their veterans when they miss games. When a team is that deep and disciplined, it’s hard to beat them.”
During this season, the Miami Heat have had to deal with a number of injuries for an extended period of time, even into the playoffs. In an interview before Game 1 of the second round against Philadelphia, Heat center Bam Adebayo talked about how this team is prepared for such challenges.
“We’ve prepared for situations like that,” Adebayo said. “I being out, Jimmy (Butler) being out, and Kyle being out a lot throughout the season, I feel like guys have gotten enough minutes, enough experience. They’re looking to prove something. They’re undrafted. There’s always that chip on their shoulder to prove something.”
No Excuses This Time
One narrative that both of these teams are trying to put to rest, and prove to be wrong, is that their rise to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020 was not legitimate due to the nature of the NBA season during the pandemic. “Bubble frauds” was an often-used term associated with the Heat during their trip to the NBA Finals that year against the Lakers. Many believed that, due to the circumstances of those playoffs — having a controlled environment absent of fans, the general atmosphere, and a grueling schedule associated with a deep playoff run — that there should be an asterisk attached to that season.
Today, although, there are no excuses. The Miami Heat have proven that they can win, despite the injuries and youth on their bench, and the Boston Celtics have proven that they are ready to take the next step.
“Currently, these matchups are fairly even if you look at the betting odds,” Windsor says. “This series can go either way and may even reach a pivotal Game 7.”
The Miami Heat have had home-court advantage throughout the entirety of this playoff run, which has put them in the best situation to reach the NBA Finals. Nevertheless, the Boston Celtics have proved that they can also win on the road and take care of business on their home court. Only time will tell who will emerge victorious.