I’m not an overly optimistic guy. Not entirely pessimistic, either. Color me properly “mistic.” Even keel, down the middle. After sifting through the film from Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals, however, I am feeling uncharacteristically opportunistic for the Celtics upcoming Friday night contest.
Will Boston commit 19 turnovers again and surrender 17 points from them? The way they have been playing suggests they can, but long term history suggests they won’t. Will the Cs give up loads of offensive boards from missed 3-pointers? Eh. So, what’s the silver lining from Wednesday’s game?
For the majority of the time Miami ran their zone defense, Boston was able to get off clean looks. Specifically, they set well-executed screens, worked the ball through the top of the paint, and looked for teammates off of drive-and-kicks. Boston fans everywhere should be happy if the Celtics receive these same open looks next game. Let’s let the film do the talking (writing?) for me.
Zonebusting – Flashing To The Free Throw Line
Not only did Boston make a repeated effort to run guys through the heart of the zone, but they did so with the proper personnel. Jayson Tatum, a talented shot-creator and evolving passer, manned the position while other capable playmakers like Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were deployed there as well.
Celtics guards did an excellent job at getting these zonebusters the ball. This lead to many open shot attempts. Boston forced the Heat’s defense to collapse on them and when they did, kickouts resulted in either uncontested or lightly contested 3-pointers. Fortunately for Miami, most of these bombs just didn’t go it. Nevertheless, these are exactly the types of shots coaches want against the zone. Boston often sports four (and sometimes five!) average or above average floor spacers on the court. If these looks happen again in Game Six, things could go much better for the Cs.
Zonebusting – Drives Lead To Open Shots
Boston also placed an emphasis on driving into the teeth of the zone. Why? This draws multiple defenders and in turn frees up other players. More specifically, these drives gave floor spacers the breathing room to launch triples. Miami should be concerned with the attempts they allowed during paint drives.
The treys taken in these clips were wide open. As a Cs fan, when Miami gets similar, clean looks, I either swear or throw my hands up in frustration. Be content when Boston gets them. Plus, the Cs did an excellent job of attacking the rim after quick ball movement forced Miami to overextend and be late on rotations.
Zonebusting – Screens
Screening against a zone can be difficult yet, it has the potential to isolate a defender then draw others out of position. Boston’s execution and timing on zone screens has improved throughout the series and they may finally be seeing the fruits of their labor.
Daniel Theis performed remarkably well when handed this task. His screens achieved one of two goals. Most of the time, they allowed a ball-handler to attack right between the “2” in the 2-3 zone. The top two defenders are both sucked towards the free throw line, opening up perimeter shooters. Essentially, Stevens found a way to have two Miami defenders occupy the same spot on the court. Pretty smart fella, eh?
Secondly, some of these high screens gave a ball-handler the chance to blow by his defender. Help defenders must dart towards a player like Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker. Abandoned Celtics must convert these easy, open shot attempts.
What Does This All Mean?
The reason many were frustrated watching the first half of last night’s game was because Boston was simply missing some clean looks. It happens. Math exists for a reason, however, and the law of averages suggests Boston will sink some more of those attempts come Friday. That’s about as analytical as it gets for me, folks.
Additionally, criticism on Brad Stevens should be tempered. Sure, you can knock him a little for not playing Grant Williams too much last night. Perhaps you wanted some more Walker minutes as well. Fine. Yet in terms of strategy, Stevens is one of the best. His job is to put Boston in a strong position to score. The players job is to, well, actually hit the open looks that result from his game plan. An ungodly amount of turnovers isn’t Brad’s fault, either. Keep the faith people, please!
BONUS: Mark Medina of USA Today came on the podcast recently to talk about this series as well as some LeBron/MVP stuff. Worth a listen! We’re also dropping rookie reviews on our YouTube page – subscribe if you like them, thanks.