Don’t call it a comeback. Are there any more cliches I can throw in? Maybe one about a heavy-set lady singing? With Boston down 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, many have been wondering why they cannot close out games. How is it that the Celtics can play wonderful basketball for so long but not produce results?
Brad Stevens has come under some criticism, which I tried to deflect in my last blog. In Game Four, Boston was able to utilize high screens against Miami’s zone to get open looks. The shots didn’t fall last game, but they certainly did in Game Five. Plus, Stevens mixed in some other screen action which also proved effective.
Defensively, the Celtics placed Daniel Theis on Andre Iguodala and had a forward such as Grant Williams, Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown defend Bam Adebayo. Why? Boston gambled on having Theis protect the rim by helping off of Iggy. Considering Iggy is hitting less than 26 percent of his triples from deep this postseason, it was a worthwhile risk. The film will go into further detail.
High Screening The Zone
The Celtics greatest strength is that they possess multiple players who can take someone off of the dribble. Their star guards, wings and forwards can all either get to the hoop or hit pull-up shots. Although it demands perfect execution, high screening against a zone can accentuate this specific skill set.
The Walker-Theis connection is the best example of this play. Well-time picks by Theis allow Walker to dart hard towards the paint or, pull-up for a 3-pointer. Miami struggled with this defense in Game Four and made no adjustments for Game Five. Expect more of it from the Cs during Sunday’s contest.
What’s more, Stevens worked in other high screen action. This includes having Theis roll into the midrange, quick swings to when the other wing defender rotates towards the middle of the paint, and flare screens for floor spacers.
These are all solid looks against a troublesome defense. Boston will live with these attempts and if they miss, so be it. Watch to see how Erik Spoelstra adjusts for their next game.
Theis on Iggy
Theis was switched onto one of Miami’s worst floor spacers with permission to abandon him if rim protection was needed. Or, he was tasked with leaving Iggy open if a lane needed to be clogged. The goal was to make it more difficult for the Heat to get to the rim and this strategy worked.
Yet, taking Theis off of Adebayo also gave the Celtics more switchability while defending pick-and-rolls. Sure, Theis is one of the more mobile, fluid centers in the league however, someone like Williams, Brown, Hayward or Tatum simply provides more agility. In other words, Boston aimed towards slowing Miami’s strong pick-and-roll game by inserting a more mobile switch defender.
In the video above, watch with a hawk-eye on Theis. He routinely jumped in front of the ball-handlers’s path to the hoop. In doing so, Iggy was left open. Stevens and company were willing to live with this and it proved a smart gamble.
One More Thing…
In addition to making a key defensive adjustment and consistently using high screens on offense, Boston also pushed the pace in Game Five’s crucial third quarter. Some of this was sparked by causing turnovers, some of it was a desire to beat the zone before it got set up.
Consider it an ominous sign for Miami if Boston plays with this kind of pace in Game Six. If the Celtics are off and running then it means their defense is playing at top-notch level and the Heat are on their heels. Besides the strategies mentioned above, monitor the pace of tonight’s game, as it could be an indicator of who has the best chance to win.