And with that being said, let's sift through some of my game
notes from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals!
As we are all aware by now, the ball-screen has become an essential cog in the
machine that is modern-day NBA offenses. So, it would stand to
reason that the coverages deployed against this play type are
paramount to the structure of today’s defenses.
Boston continued riding the wave from Game 7 against Milwaukee,
opting to start the series in a drop against Miami. By doing this,
the Celtics were also taking a page from their former coach, Doc
As Couper Moorhead
pointed out, the Philadelphia 76ers chose to guard ball-screens
2-on-2 with Embiid in a drop, which, in turn, allowed their
ancillary defenders to tighten up on shooters and avoid forfeiting
open three-pointers. (The Heat lead the league in percentage on
open threes in the regular season).
Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro both burned this configuration at times. But for now, I
would continue mixing that formation in with switches until the
Heat prove they can consistently bury pull-up threes while also
fielding a competent defensive lineup.
Meanwhile, Miami came out the gates switching screens pretty
often, and with little resistance. This led to favorable matchups
for the Celtics’ ball-handlers, who cashed in on these
opportunities by way of paint touches and lay-down passes to their
newly reincarnated big man, Robert Williams III.
In the second half, the Heat continued switching when
appropriate, but they also started sending two to the ball more
often. And that — coupled with their tenaciousness and supreme
length — led to a lot more turnovers (16 compared to 7 in the first
An interesting wrinkle to this is that Boston did a great job of
parking good three-pointer
shooters one pass away from its ball-handlers (something the
Brooklyn Nets struggled doing in their first-round matchup against
the Celtics). So, the natural adjustment for Boston to make in Game
2 should be having the blitzed initiator slow down and survey his
options to find that open shooter when the help comes to him.
Off-Ball Matchup Hunting
When most of us think about matchup hunting, the image that most
likely comes to mind is that of Luka Doncic demanding a ball-screen
from a teammate being shadowed by a relatively weak defender. Said
defender then switches onto Doncic, and the Slovenian begins to
play with his food a bit before swallowing that matchup whole.
The problem with this tactic is, if the defense doesn’t
immediately concede the switch, you're forced to re-screen until
the team finally waves the white flag. This tug of war eats up
precious seconds from the shot clock. And eventually, if they can
get the shot clock to under 10 seconds, even the most matador-esque
defender has a solid chance of inducing a suboptimal shot.
A more natural/cohesive way of exploiting weak points is by
setting up these mismatches off-ball.
In this linked clip, you see Boston
going at Max Strus. To his credit, he’s at least a solid defender.
He’ll serve as their version of a Pat Connaughton — an occasional victim of the C's
attack. Their real target moving forward (the Grayson Allen of this
operation) will be Herro.
(*Whispers from the back corner* Notice how Herro was on the
bench for the entirety of the Heat’s 22-2 run in the third quarter.
Coincidence? I think not...)
Boston did some nice things in this department, but the Heat
were the true masters of the dark arts in Game 1. Miami spent a
bulk of the second half going at the likes of Derrick White and
Payton Pritchard by using Butler as a screener whenever one of them
was matched up with the ball-handler (particularly when that person
was Gabe Vincent).
Butler used these opportunities to build up steam going downhill
(he commandeered an Embiid-ian 18 free throw attempts) or to
operate in isolation with an empty corner.
He was magnificent in Game 1, but it's worth pointing out that
Pritchard saw 30-plus minutes in this game. With Marcus Smart
listed as probable for Game 2,
it will be interesting to observe these actions unfold with the
Defensive Player of the Year patrolling the battlefield.
Unorthodox Rim Protection
As we mentioned earlier, the Celtics manufactured a ton of
dribble penetration in the first half, leading to 42 points in the
paint on 21-of-26 shooting.
In the second half, Boston was relegated to 6 points on 3-of-16
shooting from that area of the floor.
Well, the Heat aren’t blessed with a basketball-swatting machine
like Williams IIIl; they finished dead last in the league in blocks
per game during the regular season. So to compensate, they turned
to less traditional means.
This all started with their decision to send two defenders at
the ball, which led to fewer defensive breakdowns in the restricted
area. They also ICE'd a few ball-screens to further
enforce that "no middle" philosophy.
Bam Adebayo and PJ Tucker did an admiral job of
denying entry passes into the paint, and when those passes did find
a way through, the Heat used their length and great hands to swipe
at the ball and create turnovers.
That was one of the most crucial adjustments the Heat made in
the second half. In the first half, Williams III was making a
killing because no one on Miami could match his insane verticality.
However, great defenders know (or at least figure out quickly) that
when you can’t challenge a shot straight up, you need to prevent
the shot from taking place altogether. And you do this by getting
your hands on it while it's still down by the defender’s waist.
It’s safe to say the Heat have a ton of smart defenders.
Oh, and it also helped that Bam decided to catapult a few shots into the spacetime
See, taking notes is important! Look how much you can digest
from making notes about things while you watch and read about a
Now, get your pen and paper (or reMarkable) out for Game 2 on