We all have our opinions on what went wrong Boston Celtics for the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a mix of many things but Miami heatThe flamethrower attack around the perimeter certainly gave them the advantage.
In the last three games, Miami’s three-point conversion rate has evened out. So, as you might expect, the Heat started checking colors more often, looking for ways to generate scoring opportunities through kick-offs, duels, or stop-and-pops.
In Game 6 on Saturday night, the Celtics displayed exceptional defensive performance, guarding the inside and making easy shots hard to score.
We’ve impressively seen the Celtics’ commitment to hoop protection ahead of the night’s opening game. Miami entered a staggering action where both coverrs slipped before contact, allowing Gabe Vincent to curl towards the top of the perimeter before attacking in a straight line.
Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum’s stunts provided enough pressure on Vincent’s dominant hand while Jaylen Brown stayed glued to his hips to make his presence felt. The result was a rushed layout that had a little too much sauce.
It’s here in the lanes that the Celtics can wreak havoc on Miami’s shooters. Using length, speed, and defensive IQ, Boston can ensure that any paint attack is a close fight, forcing the Heat to reset the attack or take an ill-advised shot.
As you can see in the chart above, the Heat had a hard time forcing their will, both around the hoop and in a long mid-range area. Much of Miami’s struggle comes down to Boston’s attention to detail.
It was rare for Celtics pilots to be pulled away from a game. Boston ensured that their weak defender would spin or brake when someone was overtaken by a dribble, and went to great lengths to provide a body to contest the shot should a Heat player reach the hoop.
Take the game above for example. Tatum does a good job going into the lane to take Butler his way to the hoop. Marcus Smart runs into a corner to stop a three-point attack. Gabe Vincent pushes the baseline to beat Smart’s range, but is greeted by Derrick White, who immediately challenges the shot.
Three separate offensive opportunities, all three snuffed out by Boston’s combined defense, forcing hard shots and making Miami suffer the consequences. According to NBA Stats, the Celtics contested 33 of Miami’s 60 two-point attempts. However, in reality, when you factor in stunts/kicking, rearview contests, and pressure from a rotating defender, the Heat has probably only looked at the hoop easily on 5-7 occasions.
“A lot of things didn’t go our way on offense” – said Erik Spoelstra after the match. “Thanks to Boston; they blocked us. At one point, we were in the eighties.”
It’s often the case that a surefire way to attack the Celtics’ defense is in the transition phase, but in their third game in a row, Boston has ensured that quick break points will be as hard to come by as possible.
Sometimes the transitional defense is that you want it more than the other guy. Other times it’s about positioning, angles and time. When those two things converge you can limit even the best inside shooters, which is exactly what White did with the possession above as he rushed back to defense before channeling his body between the Butler and the hoop.
By taking away the easy, you start to build momentum on the defensive. One person’s clamor becomes contagious, and suddenly everyone is doing it with strength and purpose. Of course, it helps when you can rely on rim protectors to make a difference, be it by blocking shots or changing release points.
Notice how Caleb Martin has to deal with Al Horford protecting the rim, a weak tackle from Tatum and strong side pressure from Smart (before he swerves to pick up Bam Adebayo).
The result is another smoky deal as Horford’s presence and shot-blocking ability cause Martin to speed up his attempt in hopes of dodging the blow. Luckily for Martin, the rock hit the backboard, but the same couldn’t be said for Adebayo, who was pushed at close range by the always imposing, timeless Al Horford.
While Boston’s home defense was certainly the deciding factor in Game 6, this isn’t their first rearguard appearance. From the moment they turned the corner in Game 4, the Celtics were breaking on the business side of the court. Accordingly, we should be encouraged by the current increase in communication, effort and implementation.
Because when Miami returns to Boston on Monday, they’re going to take everything they have with them to keep them from going to the wrong side of the history books. Also, just like Boston has unfinished business, the Heat expired at the exact same point last season, meaning the Celtics will need to be locked out for the full 48 minutes if they want to avoid Butler and Adebayo’s revenge from a packed TD garden.
Still, if the Celtics maintain their current level of defense and Tatum can have another Game 7 for the ages, we could wake up on Tuesday to a whole new world of possibilities. I, for example, am here for this.