After spending so much time in the first and second round trying to optimize defensive matchups against Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Celtics have taken a different approach with the Miami Heat. Instead of prioritizing personnel matchups defensively, they’re less concerned with who’s guarding scoring who and rather where the shots are coming from, particularly against Miami’s two leading playoff options, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
For the most part, it’s fairly traditional drop coverage that the old Brad Stevens’ teams would run against the pick-and-roll. Above, Grant Williams backs off Butler after Jayson Tatum is picked off by Adebayo and gladly allows Butler to shoot a long-two from fifteen feet.
In the past, Boston might have decided to aggressively switch that action with Williams playing much higher on the screen and playing up into Butler, but in Game 4, the Celtics relaxed their pressure in order to keep everything in front of them and bait Miami into jumpers.
After the game, Butler didn’t blame his knee that forced him out of Game 3 for his lackluster performance. However, he did seem less willing to create contact around the rim, opting for floaters and flip shots in the restricted area.
“When you shoot a lot of jump shots, which we tended to do tonight, it’s hard getting to the free-throw line,” Butler said. “I think we have to be more of a forceful-type team, getting into the paint, not shying away from contact and playing from the inside out. Whenever we do that and (don’t) shoot as many jumpers, we might get fouled a little bit.”
That could have been a product of Boston backing up on him a bit or Robert Williams and his 7’5” wingspan matching up with him a few times or maybe his knee is bothering him. Regardless, if Butler’s going to settle, Boston will live with that outcome.
They’ll do the same if Adebayo decides not to dive to the basket and instead, stop on the short roll. Here, Al Horford gives him space for an inefficient mid-range shot.
We know Adebayo is capable of more. He was aggressive in Miami’s Game 3 win and finished with 31 points on 22 field goal attempts and six assists. He attacked Horford off the dribble and in the post. In Game 4, he took only five shots, with many of them coming in transition or off offensive rebounds.
Right now, he’s probably Miami’s most healthy star and will be more aggressive with FTX Arena behind him in Game 5. However, Bam’s big game on Saturday night woke up a sleeping giant in Horford. If the Heat lean on Adebayo banging on the block with Big Al, that also plays into the Celtics’ hands.
Of course, Miami has an array of shooters and secondary playmakers that they can tap into, too. On Monday with Tyler Herro unavailable with a groin injury, Victor Oladipo looked like Indiana Victor Oladipo, scoring 23 points on 7-for-16 shooting (4-for-7 from behind the arc).
Because Boston isn’t switching, that leaves them susceptible to pull-up threes with defenders curling around screens and drives like the one above. Again, that’s something they’ll live with in the aggregate.
For the most part, the Celtics have handled Miami in the halfcourt. Some of that is due to the Heat’s injuries. Some of that is Miami’s roster construction. Some of that is the return of Robert Williams and he and Horford combining for six blocks and holding down the paint. As long as Boston can limit turnovers and eliminate Heat transition points, a pivotal Game 5 could tilt in the Celtics’ favor.