By Eli Cohen, Reecca MaWhinney, and Blake Benjamin (graphics by Noah Edwards-Thro)

With the Eastern Conference Playoffs beginning Saturday, we wanted to break down each first-round matchup using our proprietary data. Each tile chart below outlines how the teams fared in their head-to-head matchups this season including all possessions played, All metrics given are Per 100 Possessions and do not include garbage time unless otherwise stated.

For a primer on Advantage Creation and some of the other metrics mentioned in these articles, check out our Twitter, @SIS_Hoops, and reach out if you have any questions.

  1. Celtics vs. 8. Heat

The Celtics are ranked very highly in almost all categories of SIS data except positive defensive playmaking. They play solid defense and defend well around the rim. The Celtics are tied with none other than the Spurs (shoutout Wemby) for the highest alter contest % in the league.

Along with that, they have the highest offensive rating and 2nd-highest defensive rating in the league. Another thing the Celtics do surprisingly well is rebound the basketball on both ends of the floor. They do all of this while turning the ball over the least in the NBA at a clip of 9.6 per 100 possessions.

Defensively, specifically contesting shots is where the Cs are disciplined. Porzingis and Kornet are both top 10 in block/alter per 100 possessions, with Derrick White not far behind them at 19th. As a team the Celtics protect the rim well, blocking/altering 6.1 shots per 100 at the rim and in the paint. And they do so without fouling, only 5.1 fouls per 100 at the rim or in the paint.

With the Celtics being a juggernaut on both ends of the floor it will take a David vs Goliath effort just to extend the series. They play as a team well and this makes them extremely tough to beat, especially in a 7 game series.

The Heat will have their work cut out for them facing this Celtics team without Jimmy Butler. The Heat offense has struggled much of the season, with or without Butler, but where it will really miss him is drawing fouls. With Butler playing the Heat rank 6th in the league in FT rate (20.9 per 100). Without him they rank 17th (18.5 per 100).

Furthermore, the Heat defense will take a major hit, with Butler playing they are 20nd in the league in steals (3.8 per 100). Without Butler on the court the Heat rank last in the NBA with a dismal 1.7 steals per 100. With Butler playing, the Heat rank 10th  in the NBA in positive defensive plays (13.6 per 100) while without him on the court they rank 30th (6.5 per 100).

With that being said, for some reason you can never count this Heat team out no matter who takes the floor as long as Erik Spoelstra is the head coach. On the flip side, the Celtics will be out for revenge after the Heat ended their season in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

2. Knicks vs 7. 76ers

This matchup will come down to whether or not Joel Embiid can stay healthy.

The Knicks have had their own injury trouble this season, losing Julius Randle for the season and Mitchell Robinson and OG Anunoby missing many games. Jalen Brunson is the driver for this Knicks offense. Brunson ranks 4th in advantages created (28.4 per 100 poss.) among guards and forwards. He will need to be this player throughout the series for the Knicks to beat the reigning MVP.

One thing to look out for this series is the defense on Embiid. The Knicks struggled to contest shots well this year. New York is 22nd in the NBA in block/alter% and is also tied for 10th in poor contests. The Knicks do well defending without fouling, which is important because of how well Embiid and the Sixers draw fouls.

The Sixers have missed their star but still have had some bright spots during his absence. Even with Embiid missing significant time, the Sixers still ranked 2nd in the NBA in FT rate (21.9 per 100). This balances out with how often they foul during contests. They rank 23rd in the NBA in foul%, especially with Brunson’s ability to draw fouls similar to Embiid.

The Sixers have maintained a solid defense throughout the regular season, ranking 1st in deflections and positive defensive plays, 2nd in disruptions, and top 6 in block/alter%. With a solid Philadelphia defense matching up with an underwhelming Knicks offense this will be an interesting matchup to watch as the series goes on.

Finally, the battle on the boards is always important for this Knicks team, which ranks 1st in contested offensive rebounds. While Philadelphia ranks 9th in contested defensive rebounds on the season, the 76ers will have their work cut out for them.

3. Bucks vs 6. Pacers

This matchup once again will be determined by if/when Giannis Antetokounmpo is healthy. Even with the changes Milwaukee has made since Doc Rivers became the coach, the health of their megastar is the most important thing.

Without Giannis on the floor the Bucks struggled to create advantages. The Bucks ranked 30th in the NBA with Giannis off the court (17.8 per 100) and 9th (58.4) with Giannis on the floor. Even with this difference the Bucks still hold the 5th-best offensive rating (119 per 100). This should bode well against a Pacers team that is not known for their defense.

Unlike in years past, the Bucks are not a defensive juggernaut. They ranked 17th in defensive rating (116) compared to last season when they were 3rd in the league (111.9). Without Giannis on the floor it hurts this defensive unit even further. When Giannis is not on the floor the Bucks tend to foul at a higher rate, going from 12th in the league (18.7) to 22nd (20.2).

The Pacers are one of the fastest paced teams in the NBA, The Bucks forcing the Pacers to play at a slower pace could help mitigate Giannis’ absence. In addition to creating far fewer advantages without Giannis on the floor, the Bucks offensive rating falls from 5th (119) to 22nd (113.5), another number showing how much the all-star will be missed.

It’s no secret that the Pacers have a great offense built around Tyrese Haliburton. Haliburton is 2nd in the league to Luka Doncic in total on-ball opportunities. Haliburton leads the league by a large margin in almost all of our passing stats (passes, assists, potential assists, hockey assists) while doing so with a top-10 assist-to-turnover ratio.

There’s been much discussion about the pre/post Haliburton injury that occurred on Jan. 8. Prior to the hamstring strain, every Pacers rotation player was doing better than expected, led by Haliburton. Haliburton was shooting 11% better than expected based on his shot profile.

But with Haliburton off the floor, the Pacers were dead last in advantages created.

Defense will be huge for the Pacers, who rank 24th in defensive rating (118.6). Myles Turner does better than the expectation defensively, but the problem is how low the expectations are for him. His teammates force him to clean up after their mistakes.

This series will be a fun one to watch play out, especially since the last time these two teams met there was a fiasco post-game about who got the game ball.

4. Cavaliers vs 5. Magic

This Cleveland-Orlando series might be one of the most fun matchups in the playoffs. Both of these teams are physical, defensive, fundamental teams that play older-school basketball compared to the rest of the league.

Neither of these teams are offensive juggernauts. Cleveland ranks 17th (115.6) in offensive rating while Orlando comes in tied for 21st (114.4). Both of these teams lean greatly on their stars to create offense. Orlando relies on All-Star Paolo Banchero to create advantages, creating 41 per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to 16.5 per 100 with him off the court.

The Cavaliers have more options to create offense but Donovan Mitchell is the engine. Mitchell ranks 17th among guards and forwards in True Shooting% when facing plus, altered, or fouled contests. This Cleveland offense likes to move the ball and get everyone involved, producing the most hockey assists in the league (8.6 per 100 possessions). The Cavaliers are also 5th in the league in assists (25.5 per 100), even with many of their main offensive drivers missing significant time throughout the season.

The Cavaliers are going to have to defend the rim and paint well in this series. Cleveland was 3rd in the league this year in rim deterrence, and 2nd in the league in opponents’ FG% at the rim or in the paint. But they also have the 3rd-highest poor contests in this area. The Magic have the 10th-highest FG% in the paint and at the rim while shooting the 9th-most attempts.

The Magic have one of the league’s youngest cores with exciting talents on the offensive end of the floor. But what sticks out in our data is the defensive statistics. The Magic rank tied for 2nd in defensive rating (111.7 per 100) and are 5th in positive defensive plays. The only defensive playmaking metric in which the Magic weren’t top-6 is rim deterrence in which they came in at 22nd (.53 per 100). Orlando also plays sound defense. The Magic rank 3rd in the NBA in least miscues per 100 possessions (15.2). Even with these eye popping numbers on defense they have their weaknesses on defense as well.

Orlando is not among the best contesting shots. The Magic rank 14th in the NBA in block/alter% even though they have one of the taller starting lineups in the league. The Magic also foul at a higher clip than most teams and rank 24th in opponent FT Rate. With all this taken into account the Magic still rank 1st in expected points per chance defensively (1.019).

On the flip side, on offense the Magic turn the ball over at a high rate ranking 6th in the league (12 per 100). They do get to the foul line at a good rate coming in at 3rd (21.7 per 100). Orlando is middle of the road in many of our offensive statistics and will have its hands full against a very solid and capable defensive team like the Cavs. The Magic will have to make tightly contested shots in order to win this series.