The Dallas Mavericks have faith in Luka Doncic to put a disappointing Game 1 behind him when they meet the Golden State Warriors again on Friday.

Mavs superstar Doncic was tightly marshalled by the Warriors on Wednesday, with the Slovenian only managing 20 points on six-of-18 shooting.

Andrew Wiggins was the primary defender on Doncic, who had seven turnovers and was also limited to seven rebounds and four assists in a 112-87 defeat.

However, team-mate Spencer Dinwiddie has full confidence that one of the best players in the NBA has the ability to be back at his best in Game 2.

"He's just brilliant. I think he's seen every defense from probably playing professionally overseas when he was younger," Dinwiddie told reporters.

"If you've seen it before, you've probably developed counters for it.

"So, now, it's just about continuing to improve game by game, and he's one of the best in the business at doing that."

The sentiment was echoed by Mavs coach Jason Kidd, who said: "[Doncic] understands what [the Warriors] are trying to do, and he'll be better, we believe that in that locker room."

Doncic was still the second-highest scorer in Game 1, behind only Warriors talisman Stephen Curry, who had 21 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

The NBA All-Rookie teams were unveiled on Wednesday, headlined by Rookie of the Year finalists Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley and winner Scottie Barnes in the All-Rookie First Team.

Joining the trio – who were all unanimous selections – on the First Team were Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner and Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green.

Cunningham, Green, Mobley and Barnes were the first four picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, while Wagner was the eighth selection.

They were also the only five rookies to average at least 15 points per game this season, putting a gap between themselves and sixth-highest scorer Chris Duarte at 13.1 points per game. It is the first time since at least 1985 that all five members of the All-Rookie First Team have each averaged at least 15 points per game.

The All-Rookie Second Team was made up of first-rounders Josh Giddey (sixth selection), Duarte (13th selection) and Bones Hyland (26th), as well as a pair of second-round picks in Herb Jones (35th) and Ayo Dosunmu (38th).

Orlando will have the number one pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and then the Rockets.

Golden State Warriors wing Klay Thompson emphasised that it all starts on the defensive end, while highlighting the performance of Andrew Wiggins after his side's 112-87 Game 1 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks.

The Warriors had seven players score in double-figures, led by Stephen Curry with a game-high 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, along with tying for the game-high with four assists.

While the Warriors' offense was strong, shooting 56.1 per cent from the field, it was their defense that won them the game, holding the Mavericks to 18 points in the first quarter and igniting a 15-4 run to start the third.

A main talking point from the series opener was the impressive performance of Andrew Wiggins, scoring 19 points while being the primary defender on Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, holding him to 20 points on six-of-18 shooting with seven turnovers.

Speaking after the game, Thompson discussed the narrative that he is not the defender he once was and what he thinks makes the Warriors defense so good.

"I think our length, starting with Andrew [Wiggins] – he was moving them puppies tonight," he said.

"I still take pride in my defense, no matter what people say about if I've 'lost it' or not, I still think I'm a very good defender. Steph is in the [passing] lanes, obviously Draymond [Green], we can count on him every night on that side of the ball.

"I don't really pay attention to the noise [about criticism of his defense] – I know what I'm capable of, and I know what my team-mates are capable of. I knew we were able to do what we did tonight – it was just going to take a lot of focus and trusting each other.

"I'm trying. It's hard. Marking the best player every night for 40 minutes is not easy, and going to get buckets on the other end, but it's something I love to do. 

"All the best two-guards to ever play the game played both sides of the ball – whether it was Mike [Jordan], Kobe [Bryant], [Dwyane Wade], guys I really idolised as a kid – they all competed on that side, so I just try to follow the same mould."

Thompson went on to touch on the mediocre performance from Doncic, before showering Wiggins with further praise, saying he is happy people are finally seeing "who he really is".

"Luka is obviously one of the best players in the world," he said. "It didn't help that they played two days ago, off that emotional high of winning a Game 7, so we expect them to come back with a much better effort on Friday. 

"That's why [Wiggins] was the number one pick [of the 2014 NBA Draft]. You can't teach that athleticism, you can't teach that length or his timing. 

"I'm just happy the world is getting to see who he really is – an incredible wing player – and he will be like this for the next 10 years.

"I think him being here, he's allowed to be himself. We have so many great, talented players that it can be somebody's night and the ball will find them. 

"Andrew was incredible tonight, I can't say enough good things about him. 

"He makes my job so much easier, I don't have to check the best player every night – after what I've been through, that's a nice change of pace. He doesn't seem to get tired, his outside shot has greatly improved, and he's just coming into his own.

"It's just one game, and we can feel good now, but [the Mavericks] were down 2-0 and won their series last round."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr echoed Thompson's sentiments about Wiggins.

"I thought [Wiggins] was fantastic," he said. "Doncic is as difficult a cover as there is in this league, and we just asked Wiggs to try to hound him and guard him as best as he could. 

"He did a fantastic job – Wiggs is just a huge part of our defense and our team. I thought he was great offensively as well, so great night for Andrew."

When asked about the job the Warriors defense did on him, Doncic was respectful but had little to add.

"They did a great job – that's it, that's all I have to say. They did a great job," he said. 

"It's one game, that's what the playoffs is about. Whether you lose by one or you lose by 40, it's a loss, so we just have to get ready for Game 2 now."

The Golden State Warriors were spectacular in the opening game of their Western Conference Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks, leading throughout for a 112-87 win.

Defensive stops were the theme for the Warriors, holding the Mavericks to just 18 points in the opening quarter to open up a 10-point lead after the first frame.

The Mavericks trimmed the margin to 35-33 halfway through the second quarter, but from that point on it was all Warriors, led by Andrew Wiggins' highest-scoring playoff half of his career as he had 15 to lead his side to a 54-45 half-time advantage.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took over in the third period, combining for 20 of the Warriors' 34 points to help their side jump ahead by 20 points, allowing the hosts to coast home unchallenged in the last.

Curry finished with game-highs in points and rebounds, with 21 on seven-of-16 shooting and 12 respectively, while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins chipped in 19 points each on a combined 16-of-29 shooting.

Six Warriors players finished with at least three assists, and as a team they had 24 assists on 46 field goals, while the Mavericks had 14 assists from their 31 field goals.

Luka Doncic looked primed for a big game early on, but struggled to score the ball efficiently, finishing with a team-high 20 points on six-of-18 shooting to go with seven turnovers and four assists. The Mavericks had their worst shooting performance of these playoffs at 36 per cent (31-of-86), and 22 per cent from long-range (11-of-48).

Golden State will host Game 2 on Friday, before Game 3 heads to Dallas on Sunday.

Michael Jordan has company at last.

The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

 

James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

 

Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

The Orlando Magic's late switch to see Jamahl Mosley represent the team at the NBA draft lottery paid off with the number one overall pick.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman joked Mosley was "the coach of the year" on Tuesday after he appeared on stage for the annual event and brought back the top prize.

"I haven't been very good at this," explained Weltman, who had been in line to take part.

"It's funny. Coach was feeling lucky and we let him roll the dice, and tonight, he's the coach of the year."

This is the third time the Magic have had the first selection in the NBA Draft and the first since Dwight Howard was taken in 2004.

Tuesday marked 30 years to the day since Orlando won the 1992 lottery that allowed them to select Shaquille O'Neal.

The Magic had two of the first eight picks last year, recruiting Jalen Suggs at five and Franz Wagner at eight, meaning they have an opportunity to build now with a young core.

"[For] the fans, the organisation, it's so exciting," Mosley told ESPN. "It's so much to look forward to with this organisation and this group and this fan base. It's going to be special."

Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero are considered among the leading prospects, although the Magic have also not ruled out trading their pick – in 1992, they took Chris Webber and then immediately traded him – even if that is not Weltman's focus at this stage.

"Obviously with that will come a lot of conversations, and it'll be interesting to see some of the calls that come up," Weltman said. "But mostly it means that we get to familiarise ourselves now with elite prospects, and we get to add one to our team.

"I do feel that as they start to make the rounds, teams will start to fall in love with guys, which is what generally happens.

"And generally, leverage will kind of unfold from there, but I know we'll have a lot of interesting discussions with teams. Obviously we don't go into this thing looking to trade our pick.

"We look to add a really talented, young, high-character guy to our talent base and our roster. I have no expectations on it. Obviously, we'll continue to do our work.

"This really doesn't change much of the way that we'll approach the draft. We're just really excited to be able to fall in love with somebody and pick that player."

Jimmy Butler has assured he will sustain intensity against the Boston Celtics, following the Miami Heat's 118-107 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Butler was at his best for the Heat, finishing with 41 points on 12-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.

He also took 18 free-throw attempts and only two three-point attempts in comparison, attacking the basket at almost every opportunity.

Against a Boston team that can be just as physical and aggressive as the Heat, the six-time All-Star said he will thrive on it, but the individual stat line does not matter in relation to wins and losses.

"I like physicality. I want to run into people and see who falls down first, who's going to quit first," Butler said. at the post-game news conference.

"I think that's the style of basketball I like to play and so do they. I was zero-for-two from three tonight, I want to go zero-for-zero next game, because I just want to keep banging into people.

"I think I speak for my teammates, the Miami Heat organisation when I say I know what I'm capable of. I don't do this, score 40 points, I play the way that I play to win, by all means necessary. It just so happens that I scored 40, but if I score 40 and lose I'm gonna be really pissed off.

"I have so much trust in my teammates and I will continue to play that way. I've been a quote unquote scorer at other points in my career, and it didn't work out too well for me, so I'm glad that I have the guys that I have around me and with me."

Down by eight at the start of the second half, the Heat turned it around with a 39-14 third quarter in which they were able to get six steals and force the Celtics to none-of-seven from the perimeter.

Butler's 17 points and three steals as the Heat turned Game 1 around were critical, but he asserted that the team knew they needed to dial up the intensity on the defensive end before coach Erik Spoelstra even addressed them.

"It's crazy because he [Spoelstra] didn't have to say too much," he said. "We already knew what we were doing wrong – turning the ball over, not getting back. We're at home, we've got to play better basketball, as a team. We did that, went on a little run, but this was just a win.

"I've said it all season long, whenever we let our defense dictate our offense, we're a much better team – we get stops, get into the open floor, we whip that ball around to our shooters and that's the style of basketball we call Miami Heat basketball. Gritty, dog-like, worried about getting stops instead of worried about getting buckets."

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has taken the blame for his turnovers in the Miami Heat's game-changing 22-2 third-quarter run in Tuesday's Conference Finals Game 1 defeat.

The Celtics led 62-54 at half-time but were blown away by the Heat in a staggering 39-14 third quarter where Boston gave up eight turnovers, including six from Tatum.

Boston were not helped by poor shooting offensively, with their two-of-15 (13 per cent) from the field in the third being their worst in any quarter over the last four seasons.

"They were down at half-time and came out and played hard in the third quarter," Tatum told reporters after the game.

"It's on me, I had six turnovers. I've got to take care of the ball better, especially in those situations when they're going on runs like that."

Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said his side lost their composure during the third quarter, with Jimmy Butler starring for the Heat at both ends.

Butler finished the game with 41 points, including 27 in the second half, while he also had four steals and three blocks.

"They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to up their physicality and aggression at both ends," Udoka said.

"I don’t think we obviously responded well on either end of the floor. We had eight of our 16 turnovers in that quarter.

"It flipped very quickly. We lost our composure."

The win gives the Heat a 1-0 series lead but Udoka was eager to point out that the Celtics won three of the four quarters, offering hope moving forward.

"We won three quarters other than that but obviously that one is going to stand out, 39-14 on two-of-15 is tough to overcome," he said.

"We won the transition battle, won the second-chance points battle we won the points in the paint, really had one poor quarter that hurt us.

"It was strictly from a physically standpoint. It wasn’t anything different that they did. At least we bounced back in the fourth."

Jimmy Butler scored 41 points including 27 in the second half as the Miami Heat's third-quarter charge helped them to a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 118-107 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

After trailing 62-54 at half-time, the Heat went on a 22-2 run early in the third quarter to storm ahead and never looked back from there. The Heat are 7-0 in the 2022 playoffs at FTX Arena.

Butler's 41-point haul was his sixth time in 12 playoff games where he has hit the 30-point mark. It was also his third 40-point night of these playoffs.

The Heat forward shot 12-of-19 from the floor, along with eight-of-11 in the second half, while he also had nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks in a remarkable all-round display.

Butler becomes the first player this postseason with at least 30 points and four steals in multiple games.

Gabe Vincent (17 points, three assists, three blocks), Max Strus (11 points including three triples, four rebounds, two assists, two steals) and Tyler Herro (18 points, eight rebounds, three assists) all provided good support.

The Celtics were left to lament their 39-14 third quarter, along with their 11-of-34 three-point shooting, cooling off in the second half.

Boston's two-of-15 (13 per cent) third-quarter field goal shooting was their worst in any quarter over the last four seasons. The Celtics only managed four points in the paint in the second half, having scored 42 in the first.

Jayson Tatum top scored for Boston with 29 points with two-of-nine from beyond the arc along with eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Jaylen Brown added 24 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, while the absence of Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols) was felt.

The Heat were also missing veteran point guard Kyle Lowry due to a lingering hamstring issue.

Miami's 12 blocks for the game, led by center Bam Adebayo (10 points, four rebounds, four blocks), was a joint franchise playoff record.

The Orlando Magic have secured the number one pick in this year's NBA Draft following the lottery on Tuesday.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings will pick second, third and fourth respectively, with the Detroit Pistons rounding out the top five.

The Pistons dropped below the top four despite 52.1 per cent odds of landing in one of the top four spots and having a 14 per cent chance at the top pick, with the Kings moving up into fourth.

The Magic, who also had a 14 per cent chance at the top pick, have not had the first selection since the 2004 draft, where they selected Dwight Howard.

The other two times were in 1992, selecting Shaquille O'Neal, and 1993, where the Magic traded Chris Webber for Anfernee Hardaway. O'Neal and Howard both made NBA Finals appearances with the Magic before leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Thunder's last selection at number two, meanwhile, was Kevin Durant in 2007.

The biggest losers from the lottery were the Portland Trail Blazers, who claimed the seventh pick despite a 2-21 finish to end the season after trading away CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr.

The Boston Celtics have lost Al Horford and Marcus Smart for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

Horford will miss out after entering the NBA's health and safety protocols, while Smart has a right mid-foot sprain, the team said.

Losing center Horford and point guard Smart just hours before the series opener is a major blow to head coach Ime Udoka.

It remains to be seen how long the pair must stay sidelined. Both played significant roles in Boston edging out the Milwaukee Bucks in a semi-final series that went to a Game 7 decider on Sunday.

Speaking before the twin absences were announced, Udoka said the Celtics would look to make a strong start against Miami, despite lacking time for a breather between series.

Udoka said: "We didn’t get a ton of rest, as opposed to Miami, who had a few days off. But we're riding some momentum and staying sharp and there's benefits to that as well. Miami got [four] days off, but as far as what we did against Milwaukee, some carryover could be good."

Boston are not alone in being without key personnel. It had previously been announced Miami guard Kyle Lowry will miss Game 1 with a hamstring injury.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Eastern Conference Finals will be an old-school defensive slugfest, and that he feels the best two teams made it.

The Heat needed six games to triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Boston Celtics came back from 3-2 down against the Milwaukee Bucks to get the job done in Game 7.

As a reward for getting their series out of the way early, the Heat will have five days of rest before Tuesday's Game 1, while the Celtics have just one proper rest day between series.

Speaking to the media after Monday's practice, Spoelstra said it is shaping up as a series that will warm the heart of Heat president Pat Riley.

"Pat's [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this," he said. "This is like a throwback series. 

"If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. 

"So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins… really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it's fitting that we're moving into the conference finals.

"Boston has played as well as anyone in the entire league once they got to 2022. It's not by accident. They're playing very strong basketball. They do it on both ends."

Heat star Jimmy Butler was asked about his potential matchup against Jayson Tatum, and he had nothing but praise for the Celtics' best player.

"He's one of the best in the game right now," he said. "As much attention as he draws on the offensive end – and then I think what's really impressive is the way that he's picked up his defensive intensity. 

"You got to tip your hat to that and respect him, I think those are the guys that you want to go up against."

Two years after meeting in the 2020 Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics are on a mission to flip the script on the Miami Heat.

In that 2020 series, which the Heat won 4-2 in 'the bubble' to advance to the NBA Finals, the Celtics were the higher seed, and were playing in their third Eastern Conference Finals in the space of four seasons.

But in hindsight, it was Miami who were built to win that series, despite it being their first time past the second round since LeBron James carried them to the finals in 2014.

Jimmy Butler was invigorated in his first year in Miami, in his physical prime at 30 years old and was determined to show he was not at fault for pushing his way out of the Minnesota Timberwolves and being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers in the space of a year.

He was also supported by Goran Dragic, just two years removed from his lone All-Star appearance, who in the series averaged 20.5 points and 4.7 assists per game in 34 minutes.

As well as having two strong initiators, the Heat also had a complete mismatch in the form of Bam Adebayo against a Celtics team starting Daniel Theis at center, with no competent back-up. Adebayo averaged 21.8 points while shooting over 60 per cent from the field, with 11 rebounds and five assists per game, and was clearly the most dominant player in the series.

When taking into account an outlier 37-point showing from Tyler Herro on 14-of-of-21 shooting that single-handedly won Game 4 112-109 for the Heat – making it a 3-1 series lead instead of 2-2 heading back to Boston – it begins to become clear that there was not much the Celtics could do, given their personnel.

Fast-forward a couple of years, 22-year-old Jayson Tatum is now 24 and in the midst of a rapid ascension into the game's best players, 23-year-old Jaylen Brown is now 25 and has developed into a true number-two option, Marcus Smart is now 28 years old and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and, more importantly, the supporting cast is built for the long-haul.

 

Replacing Theis with Al Horford may be the most consequential addition or subtraction on either side, with the potential to nullify the series-altering presence of Adebayo on the inside. Horford will also have help in the form of Robert Williams III – who became one of the best defensive players in the league this season – while Theis remains as a 'break glass in case of emergency' option.

Adding to the rise of the Celtics has been the emergence of Grant Williams as a reliable two-way player, capable of slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo while hitting over 40 per cent of his threes, as well as the trade to add Derrick White as a second defensively sound 'small' guard next to Smart.

For a team with a real defensive identity – willing to 'switch' every screen and allow their small guards to take on bigger assignments – being able to replace Kemba Walker with a trustworthy, stout defender completely takes away an avenue of attack for a sharp offensive team like Miami.

What it also means is that the Celtics will not have to waste any minutes on players who have no business in big playoff series – such as Brad Wanamaker and Semi Ojeleye, who combined for 21.8 minutes per game in the 2020 series.

A run to the NBA Finals would be fulfilling the promises of Boston's advanced numbers, which after the All-Star break had the Celtics as not just a legitimate title contender, but as the favourite, and a historic team.

During that stretch, the Celtics were the number one offense – with a gap to the Charlotte Hornets at number two – and the number three defense, with a net-rating of 12.7. The Memphis Grizzlies (7.6) were the only other team with a net-rating above 6.0.

For the Heat, Dragic has been replaced by Kyle Lowry, who is now 36 years old and recovering from his second hamstring injury of the playoffs, and the veteran presences of Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder have been replaced by a combination of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the shell of Victor Oladipo.

Erik Spoelstra boasts arguably the deepest bench in the entire NBA, but this is playoff basketball, which generally comes down to each side's best seven players, nullifying their advantage on the back-end of their roster.

The identity of this Miami offense through the playoffs has largely relied on the brilliance of Jimmy Butler, who at 32 years old is putting together the best playoff run of his career, averaging 28.7 points per game on 52.7 per cent shooting, with 7.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals.

 

Miami's second-best scorer this postseason has been Adebayo, way down at 14.6 points per game compared to his 19.1 for the regular season.

Butler was perfectly matched up against the Philadelphia 76ers, who have no wing defenders capable of matching the Heat star physically – but the Celtics do not have the same problem.

The Celtics have at least four players – Tatum, Brown, G. Williams and R. Williams – who match up well with Butler, and they showed against the Milwaukee Bucks that they were more than happy to play straight-up defense and force one player to try and beat them with isolations all day.

If Miami cannot figure out a way to unleash a second scorer in a real way – be it Herro, Adebayo, or even Strus, who averaged 20.5 points in his two matchups against Boston this season – they may be playing straight into the Celtics hands. 

The one advantage Miami will have is the rest-factor. It will be five days since the Heat's Game 6 win against the 76ers, while the Celtics will only have one true rest day after handling their business in Game 7 on Monday night.

For the regular season, the Heat won all three of their games with at least three days rest, although the Celtics were the fourth-best team in the NBA coming off one day of rest (28-13, .683 winning percentage).

If the Heat can take advantage of their fresh legs and win Game 1, anything could happen, but ultimately, just like the Celtics were almost helpless in 2020, the Heat just may not have the horses this time around.

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