• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

How the Celtics leaned on their ‘defensive identity’ to dominate Heat in Game five and extend their season


May 26, 2023

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is a man of couple of words. Through his interview with Allie LaForce of TNT in among the third and fourth quarters of Game five of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday evening, he uttered just ten of them. The very first seven stood out.

“It just begins with our defensive identity,” Mazzulla mentioned, when asked why the Celtics have been the most effective version of themselves in a wire-to-wire, 110-97 victory more than the Miami Heat, which kept their season alive and forced a Game six back in Miami on Saturday. 

If you just scanned the box score, it may perhaps not look like this was a defensive masterpiece by the Celtics, but the Heat’s 51.three% shooting from the field and 39.1% mark from three-point land do not inform the complete story. Yes, they may perhaps have hit shots, but they by no means got into a comfy rhythm since of the Celtics’ stress ideal from the opening tip.

The Heat won that jump ball and attempted to set up Bam Adebayo with a post iso on the ideal side of the floor. Only, Al Horford forced Adebayo to catch the ball all the way at the three-point line, which meant the Heat significant man had to place the ball on the deck in the middle of the floor to get to the basket. That was a undesirable thought with Marcus Intelligent lurking the Celtics guard reached in for a steal, dove to safe the loose ball and discovered Jayson Tatum for a fastbreak layup. 

“Physicality on the defensive finish from the begin,” Grant Williams mentioned. “Intelligent set the tone the very first play of the game, which set our defense up for the rest of the game and we gotta just continue that stress.”

The Celtics have been entirely locked in. 

Their choose-up points have been in the backcourt or ideal at halfcourt. They have been producing the Heat function just to get into their sets, which they then had to begin additional away from the basket. Here’s a sample of 4 possessions from the very first quarter. 

The Celtics have been choosing up the Heat early and producing them work 

They constructed on their initial stress by flying about off the ball and getting wise with when and exactly where they helped. Here’s a play late in the very first half exactly where Jaylen Brown jumps the passing lane for a steal and gets an straightforward fastbreak layup. That all takes place since Intelligent is up on Caleb Martin early, which tends to make the initial pass out to the wing longer and much more predictable, providing Brown the capability to time the steal. 

In the third quarter, the Heat attempted to post up Adebayo with Intelligent guarding him, so Horford shades down toward the paint and tends to make a difficult double group. As Adebayo kicks out to Jimmy Butler, Derrick White has currently slid more than to the elbow to congest the lane Butler desires to drive into and gets the steal. 

On the occasions when the Heat have been in a position to get into the lane, the Celtics’ discipline and rim protection produced issues hard. Though the Heat did shoot the ball properly general, that was mainly on challenging jumpers at the rim they have been just 17 of 26, a 65.four% mark that was beneath league typical, and in the paint general they have been 26 of 47. 

Just a couple of possessions in, White plays tremendous defense and goes vertical to force a Butler miss.

A couple of minutes later, Tatum does the identical.

In the second half, White refused to bite on a Butler pump fake, then Tatum stands tall to contest a wild operating layup from Max Strus.

“Yeah, D-White, second group all-defense this year for a cause,” Tatum mentioned. “He’s a significant portion of our group, our identity, issues we attempt and do on the defensive finish. He’s a quite wise basketball player on each ends, and his awareness, his instincts, they showed tonight.”

The Celtics do not have the identical level of defense as they did final season, but they nevertheless completed second in the league in defensive rating and can dial it up when essential. That is just what they did in Game five with a brilliant show that completely blended power and organization. The outcome was 27 points off of 16 turnovers, which incorporated 13 steals. 

And it really is that form of intensity that they will want much more of in Game six if they want to develop into just the fourth group in NBA history to force a Game 7 following going down three-. 

“We played with fantastic intensity on defense, and I feel we just set the tone from the jump,” Brown mentioned. “We’ve got to be in a position to do that and carry that more than into the subsequent game. We have got to count on their most effective punch subsequent game.”