Game Three Focus: How Brad Stevens’ Exploited A Miami Weakness

By Matt Esposito

After the Boston Celtics Game Two implosion, you did not have to search far to find shamrock fans sharpening their pitchforks. The mob was out for coach Brad Stevens, mostly for his failure to call a third quarter timeout and some personnel decisions. My own analysis found the players guilty of not executing Stevens’ zonebusting gameplan and also led me to write this prediction piece.

Resisting the urge to horn-toot, I’ll redirect my energy towards not only complimenting Stevens’ Game Three performance but, delineating precisely how he out-coached Eric Spoelstra. Stevens prepared his players to consistently attack Duncan Robinson. What’s more, he re-positioned his guys to find more success against the Heat’s zone.

Poor Duncan Robinson

Josh Wilson, the Director of the NBA Division for Fansided, beat me to the punch on this one. He was quick to identify Robinson as a swing factor in the series and even questioned if he was unplayable. His question was answered during Saturday’s contest, as Boston targeted the sniper’s defensive skills from the opening tip.

Why attack Robinson with such consistency? Two reasons. Despite being 6-foot-8, the undrafted wing is not terribly fast-footed and also isn’t known for his core strength. He can be bullied and burnt. Plus, Boston wanted to play Robinson off of the court as to remove a major component of the Heat’s 3-point friendly offense.

Were the Celtics successful. Hell. Freaking, Yes. Hopefully, the bold, underline and italics combo in that last sentence accurately portrayed my emphasis. If not, this video should do it for you. Keep and eye on how Robinson was routinely dragged into pick-and-rolls, forcing him to switch onto either quicker guards (Kemba Walker), dangerous self-creators (Jayson Tatum) or stronger players (Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.)

Watch it again. See how Smart literally grabs Jimmy Butler to prevent him from not switching during a handoff. Smart also purposely called plays to draw Robinson into pick-and-rolls. Keep and eye on this development during Game Four.


Many ascribed Stevens the blame for Boston’s inability to breakdown Miami’s zone defense. What’s more likely: a professional coach not knowing how to beat a zone or, young players panicking into hero ball and therefore ditching Stevens’ game plan? I’ll go with the latter and you should too.

Regardless, Stevens found a way to get his guys to stick to the script. Additionally, he positioned players like Grant Williams, Tatum and the healthy Gordon Hayward into positions to exploit the zone. For Williams, this meant flashing into the free throw line area and roaming the baseline. Hayward did more of the same while also darting from corner to corner. Tatum also manned the middle of the zone.

Although they did not convert every attempt, the Celtics forced Miami to rotate out of position. This resulted in a bevy of open looks; ones that surely made Coach Spoelstra sweat. The ball was flying around the court and with Hayward adding a shooting punch, the Heat were often overstretched. To boot, Stevens placed someone on the baseline to keep All-Defensive team center Bam Adebayo from fully committing to stopping drives.

Zonebusting & Picking On Duncan Robinson?

Sorry, Duncan. You aren’t off the hook yet, pal. One of the benefits of implementing a defensive zone is that it can often hide struggling defenders. Impressively, Stevens still managed to target Robinson and make Miami pay.

The first play in this clip is a direct result of Boston’s constant harassment of Duncan Robinson. Jae Crowder felt the need abandon Jaylen Brown as Walker drove on Robinson. This gave Brown the step for a nice rim attack. The second play forced Robinson out of position and opened a backdoor lane for a Brown slam. Tip of the cap to you, Mr. Stevens.

BONUS: Our latest podcast recaps the series through three games. Zach and I give an in-depth discussion on the chess moves that have been played and ones that are yet to come.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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