When I was 19, my podiatrist botched an attempt to remove an in-grown toenail. Pain ensued. Games One and Two of the Eastern Conference Finals have felt a little something like that. Apparently, fans were not the only ones who were frustrated.
Once more, Boston found themselves surrendering a sizable lead during the second half of an important playoff game. Tip your cap to the Miami Heat, however. It turns out that when large, lanky defenders develop their 2-3 zone chemistry for an entire season, it tends to pay off when you need it most. The Celtics (well, not all of them) were stymied by this scheme and it ultimately led to reports of locker room confrontation.
What caught my eye, however, was a tweet by Masslive.com beat writer Tom Westerholm. After having noticed Jaylen Brown’s lack of involvement in Game One, I kept an eye out for is Game Two usage. Westerholm also observed that Brown wasn’t receiving looks when he was open and he had this to say about it:
But what does the game tape say? Why was Jaylen irritated and did he have a right to be? You want more questions? Is it possible that Brown was upset because he knew he was the key to busting Miami’s vaunted zone? Hmmm, I’m onto something here…
Jaylen The Zonebuster?
Similar to the politics of anyone 60+, the soft spots of a zone never change. You can beat this scheme by penetrating and kicking to presumably either corner spot. This is why teams often task a strong perimeter shooter with running across the baseline. This also pairs well when the free throw line area – another zone weak spot – is occupied by someone with solid passing skills and a reliable enough jumper.
For example, check out Boston beating a Toronto box-and-one zone that had similar weak spots. Brown runs the baseline and boom, a bucket.
Or, observe how the zone struggles to guard both a handler on the right wing and someone in the corner. Brown catches, drives and receives the foul call.
He is also improving at taking advantage of the defense when they hone in on him. Daniel Theis received a sleek pass from Brown for what should have been a trip to the line (DT was hammered in the face by Bam Adebayo.) Additionally, he can attack off of closeouts in the corner and find waiting floor spacers.
Source Of Frustration?
Not only was Jaylen giving maximum energy while running from soft spot to soft spot all game long, but he seemed to be doing it more than anyone else. Knowing that he can bust a zone by either nailing corner triples or creating from behind the defense, he was right to believe he should have seen more passes coming his way.
In this play, Marcus Smart doesn’t make the right pass to Jaylen, which was also the easy pass. Instead the ball kicks around and Kemba Walker throws a dart at Brown’s feet for a turnover.
Look at the following image to see what particular pass Smart missed out on.
This happened more than once throughout the game. Below, Brown would have caught the ball and immediately have been doubled by Bam and Tyler Herro. You can see the defense dart towards him. This would have been a good thing. Boston needed to exploit doubles and it’s easy to imagine a simple kickout pass to an open shooter.
Again, the image shows that the pass should have been made. Instead, Brown was forced to catch the ball in the zone’s other weak spot; an area he does not thrive in.
Multiple teammates also either missed Brown in the corner or opted to selfishly keep the ball. Sure, this defensive 3-second call resulted in a technical free throw, but this ball clearly should have been rifled to Jaylen for an open trey.
And now, the image for clarity.
Even when Brown doesn’t receive the pass, he is still helping his team. The mere threat of his corner 3-pointer draws a defender to him instead of Jayson Tatum. I’m a secret, dark money donor to the Marcus Smart 2024 SuperPAC, but this shot attempt was totally unjustifiable.
There were times when Smart succeeded against the zone yet, his play was still not the team’s best option. Here, he draws a foul against Bam (not likely to happen again) instead of slipping a paint pass to the dunk-ready Jaylen Brown. I’d be frustrated too, Jaylen.
Your last image…
Heading Into Game Three
Saturday’s contest is likely a do-or-die scenario for Boston. Despite the reporting concerning their locker room blowup, things seems to be okay after Brad Stevens led his team leaders in a pow wow. Plus, Jaylen Brown reached sainthood by somehow calmly downplaying the post-game incident.
Expect a couple of changes from Stevens. Firstly, Miami knows how to beat Enes Kanter defensively. The Turkish International will likely not see the court again unless Bam is on the bench. Stevens will look to go small with Grant Williams at the five. This allows the Celtics to switch just about everything with greater effectiveness than if Theis were manning the center spot. Lastly, look for Brown to be utilized as a zonebuster more. To boot, we’re officially on Gordon Hayward watch!
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