One of the questions I had coming into the NBA playoffs was how the neutral-site bubble atmosphere would impact the flow of a series. Would underdogs start to be more competitive in a postseason that’s always been geared to the favorites? Or would favorites, no longer burdened by road games in the middle of a series, quickly stamp the life out of their opponent? In the Eastern Conference, at least in the first round, it’s been the latter.
Three of the series ended in sweeps. None involved the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. And none were more impressive than the Miami Heat’s dismantling of the Indiana Pacers.
This was the 4-5 matchup in the bracket, one where the dog has always stood a fighting chance, even with homecourt being a factor. So watching the Heat systematically control a good Pacers team was not something I was expecting. This series was a coming-out party for some good young Miami players, most notably Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo is only 22-years-old and the Kentucky product was the key to a decisive Heat edge on the boards and that edge was the key to the entire series. After Game 1 was fairly even on rebounding, Miami enjoyed a narrow edge in Game 2. That turned into decisive control of the interior in Game 3 and then a massive advantage in the close-out Game 4.
The final rebounding numbers were 182-146, compared to relatively even stats in shooting from the floor, behind the arc and at the line. Adebayo averaged better than 11 rebounds per game. And he went for 22 points/11 boards in Game 3, the one where the Heat really choked the life out of the Pacers.
Adebayo is joined by fellow Kentucky man Tyler Herro, who averaged 17ppg for the series. Duncan Robinson, a power forward out of Michigan, is another young player the Heat have down low. And lest you think, it’s all youth driving the Heat, the scoring punch still comes from the veteran backcourt of Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler.
Boston and Toronto also swept their first-round series. The Celtic sweep of the 76ers wasn’t expected, but nor was it a shock—not with Ben Simmons out. Philadelphia responded by firing Brett Brown. Toronto’s sweep of Brooklyn was entirely predictable. Milwaukee will likely close out Orlando in Game 5 later today.
That sets up some exciting conference semifinals in the East, with Raptors-Celtics tipping off on Thursday and Bucks-Heat presumably not far behind. Milwaukee would be wise not to sleep on the rising force coming from South Beach.