MIAMI, FLORIDA – MAY 29: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat against the Boston Celtics during game seven of the Eastern Conference Final at FTX Arena on May 29, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
If Brown is the player than can swing this series for the Celtics, Bam Adebayo is that player for the Heat. The 6-foot-9, highly-athletic center has averaged 18.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in the playoffs, while shooting 49.7 percent from the floor.
Last year, the Celtics were able to keep Adebayo relatively in check, although they played with a deeper frontcourt in that series. Grant Williams has fallen out of the Celtics’ playoff rotation, and Daniel Theis is no longer with the team. That leaves Al Horford and Robert Williams as their counters in the paint.
Horford has been inconsistent in the playoffs this year. While he’s had some flashes of being the player he was during the team’s run to the Finals last year, his offensive production is down. Playing 32.1 minutes per game – the fourth-most on the team – he’s averaging just 6.6 points per game on 37.6 percent shooting. However, he is figuring out ways to impact the game other than scoring. He’s grabbed 7.6 rebounds with 2.2 blocks per game.
Robert Williams on the other hand has been excellent. While his per-game numbers are about the same as Horford’s – 6.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game – he’s been much more efficient. He’s put those numbers up in just 21.9 minutes per game, and is shooting 79.2 percent from the floor.
To this point the Celtics have seemingly been (understandably) careful managing Robert Williams’ time on the floor in the playoffs. He’s seventh on the team in minutes per game, at the bottom of the regular rotation. He didn’t begin starting games until Game 6 against Philly. Yet while Horford was a better defensive matchup for Joel Embiid, that advantage is now gone. The Celtics will probably need to either increase Williams’ minutes, or expand the rotation to include a player like Grant Williams, Blake Griffin, or Luke Kornet – even if it’s just briefly to throw different looks at Adebayo.
The Celtics will also need to adjust to the addition of Kevin Love, who was signed by the Heat this February after getting bought out by the Cavs. He especially replaces P.J. Tucker, who started all seven games in the ECF for the Heat last year.
Love has made a minimal impact so far in the playoffs – in 20.6 minutes per game, he’s averaging 7.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 36.1 percent from the floor and has scored in double-digits just twice. Stylistically he’s a different player than Tucker, who burned the Celtics at times in last year’s series in ways other than scoring the basketball. The Celtics adjustment may simply be to force the Heat to regularly involve Love offensively, but if he starts hitting shots that could be a problem.