Earlier than the collection began, I famous that the crux of Hawks-Celtics would come all the way down to how Boston’s protection would deal with Trae Younger, Dejounte Murray, and Atlanta’s offense:
Within the ultimate fifteen video games of the common season, the Snyder-cut Hawks averaged probably the most factors within the league at 124.1 an evening. Certain, they performed with tempo to generate extra possessions, nevertheless it’s not as in the event that they have been chucking up a bunch of three-pointers and getting out in transition. As a substitute, Atlanta excelled within the soiled work, the soiled work of combating for offensive rebounds and the “soiled” work of attending to the free throw line.
As spectacular as Atlanta was on offense to shut out the common season, Boston matched them on the opposite facet of the ball. Even whereas treating the ultimate three video games as a little bit of a settle down from an 82-game marathon, the Celtics completed first in defensive ranking at 109.1 factors per 100 possessions; to place that into context, the Hawks have been twenty fifth at 118.5. It wasn’t precisely the stingy D that they closed with in 2022, but when protection wins championships, they’re clearly trending in the fitting course.
By way of two video games and two blowouts, the Celtics have clearly received on the defensive facet of the ball.
The Hawks are nonetheless discovering some success with what obtained them into the playoffs: offensive rebounding and subsequently, producing extra shot makes an attempt. In Video games 1 and a pair of, they’ve pulled down 33 boards on the offensive finish and brought 25 extra pictures. The Celtics have mitigated a few of that injury by permitting simply three extra second probability factors (25-22) over each video games at TD Backyard and extra importantly, pressured Atlanta into some troublesome pictures.
As talked about, head coach Quin Snyder isn’t blessed with a number of taking pictures or rim threats, therefore the necessity to crash the glass. In flip, the Celtics have contained Atlanta’s offense to outdoors of the restricted space and contained in the arc. In Sport 2, the Hawks shot nineteen extra threes on Tuesday night time with a bulk of them (16) coming from John Collins and De’Andre Hunter. Boston will gladly take that.
“Our focus is take the pictures we get and the way in which that they’re shifted, in the event that they’re open, we take them,” Snyder stated after his crew had half the variety of pictures that they had in Sport 1 within the restricted space and simply eight free throws vs. 22 on Saturday. “I nonetheless really feel like that once we flip them down and once we get into site visitors, the outcome isn’t pretty much as good.”
Snyder is correct.
A number of instances when Sam Hauser was on the ground, the Hawks, notably Trae Younger and Dejounte Murray, hunted him on protection. Hauser obtained caught a number of instances, however for probably the most half, held his floor.
Hauser will give Younger sufficient area to shoot the pull-up jumper, but when Younger goes to try to get to the rim, he’ll be met with assist protection — right here within the type of Jaylen Brown.
Boston isn’t precisely doing something revolutionary. The Hawks know who they’re and happily, so do the Celtics. On this trendy NBA, the numbers simply don’t favor long-2s, particularly in the event that they’re contested and Boston is making them take each.
Right here’s Younger once more, probing after a pick-and-roll and drawing two defenders. As a substitute of dribbling out and resetting the possession, he will get swallowed up by Al Horford and Derrick White and drive into a nasty turnover with Marcus Good lurking on the assistance facet.
“In conditions the place groups shrink the ground, simply having the ability to make a learn,” Snyder stated of the problem with coping with the Celtics’ protection. “Typically, it’s a easy play, nevertheless it’s not that straightforward to acknowledge it. Boston is lengthy they usually shrink the ground. After we’re driving, we have to get off it at instances.”
After the Hawks got here into the playoffs as the most popular offensive crew to shut out the common season, the Celtics have ramped up their efforts on protection. From January to March and April, Boston has tightened the screws month-to-month from an 112.1 defensive ranking to 111.9 to 109.1. Within the postseason, that’s dropped additional to 100.5.
“We’ve been a gaggle that’s hung their hat on protection all yr. I feel we began the transition from even when Brad Stevens was the top coach to Ime Udoka taking it up a notch and even now,” Brown stated.
“We’re a defensive group, we play each side of the ball, and we do it at a excessive stage. Typically, it goes unnoticed. Typically, folks depend upon analytics to make their selections, however when it comes all the way down to it, in moments like this, that is when our protection issues probably the most within the playoffs. We’re seeking to present what we will do on that facet of the ball in these playoffs, me included.”
OK, JB. OK.