MazzullaBall

lovegtm

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We got off days, man. One of these days, maybe pour an extra cup in the morning and knock out a long-form thread-starter post on how you'd characterize the themes and tradeoff decisions of the 23-24 Boston Celtics. I've been watching them all year, but I don't know ball well enough to be able to articulate it in depth, beyond seeing a few things that become obvious like the KP post game, offensive boarding by crashing from the corners, and our tendency to not help when facing good perimeter shooting. I'd love to get a deep dive that can Mazzullasplain the grand strategy, and make the last two rounds (God willing) more enjoyable for us here.
Disclaimer:
I never played basketball competitively. Our other posters on the forum who have, like HRB, tend to have better insights about things like the effect of a star sitting out, or a 1pm start time after a series win.

On the other hand, I do watch and rewatch a lot of basketball, and am pretty comfortable with what many teams are trying to do in Xs and Os. It's not rocket science if you get into it; most reasonably smart people can get a long way.

I'm not basing the below on anything except watching games and a couple Mazzulla quotes that didn't seem like coach-speak. The savvy basketball media, by and large, has done a poor job of what the principles of the Celtics' offense are. @AdamTaylorNBA has done great taxonomical work on what makes up the offense and the actions it goes to, but not as much on the "why".

MazzullaBall, Part 1: Motivations
Joe Mazzulla has been a Celtics' assistant and now head coach for awhile, through a few iterations of the present core group. The current offense he implements is best seen as problem-solving for issues that have afflicted that core group over the years, as well as a couple more generic NBA challenges. Those problems are:

1. How do you handle teams sending late help to Tatum and Brown? The Celtics have had a good offense for years with Tatum initiating in PnR, but it tends to get bogged down in the playoffs. The best blueprint has been the "Tatum Rules" that Spoelstra and Kerr employed to great success, where you force Tatum to commit to driving, and then send late help at predetermined times. He has a hard time knowing what the read is, and often makes a non-advantage pass, takes what ends up being a 1-on-2 (or 3) shot, or turns it over.

Some players (like Luka and LeBron) are amazing at handling this type of defense, and will eat it for lunch. Tatum isn't that guy, and so this strategy was pretty effective at grinding the C's offense to a halt, since they become indecisive and don't know how to create an initial advantage anymore.

2. How do you fix the "clown car" drive-and-kick offense? I think Zach Lowe coined this term, and it was referring to a pattern the 2021-23 Celtics had of driving, kicking, driving, kicking and not knowing exactly what the point was. When it worked, it looked like the late 2022 regular season run, and looked good. However, it wasn't maximizing the talent on the floor, and it wasn't completely clear to the players what the objective of a possession was.

3. How do you maximally utilize a roster filled with good shooters and decision makers? This sounds like a great problem to have, but the offense could often devolve into those shooters and decision makers spotting up around the perimeter, which isn't maximally threatening.

4. How do you let your offense put your defense in the best possible position? The Celtics clearly decided at some point that missed layups were killer, and led to ridiculously high point expectations going the other way. This sucks, however, because layups are valuable shots! How do you implement offensive principles that get you layups while reducing missed layups? That sounds impossible, or at least obvious: make more shots! However, the actual implementation is quite clever.

5. Finally, how do you maximize the things that Jayson Tatum is good at? He's a different offensive player than Jokic, or Luka, or SGA, or Giannis, and it's tempting to focus on his flaws. However, he does a number of things really well on the offensive end, and there are some situations in which opposing coaches are terrified of him. They hate ignoring him off-ball, because he's so good attacking a scrambling defense. He's gotten massively better at bullying guys 1-on-1. And his stepback 3, if not bothered, is a shot that coaches are unwilling to concede. He also is a good decision-maker and reads defenses well, although not at the most elite level.

Next, I'll get into the principles of MazzullaBall, and it should be obvious how most of them are direct solutions to these problems.
 

lovegtm

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MazzullaBall Part 2: Principles

1. 2-on-1s

I think that most things coaches say are what HRB calls "coach-speak": they're pretty meaningless, designed to make players feel better, or maybe get the media off the team's back. However, some things are clearly not that, because they're technical terms that don't serve those goals.

When I hear a coach saying of the latter kind, I assume that he's slipping into jargon that's part of his team day-to-day, and that it's somewhat meaningful.

In Mazzulla's case, he references one particular thing very often: executing 2-on-1s. This sounds obvious: of course you want 2-on-1s. Everyone is familiar with the pick-and-roll where the guard beats his man, has the opposing center in front of him, and forces the center to choose between defending the floater/layup and defending the lob to the offensive big.

However, the Celtics mean something somewhat different with "2-on-1": it's the heuristic they implement with players to simplify the decision of whether to shoot or pass. It also helps them know how and when to use isos (1-on-1s, as opposed to 2-on-1s).

For the Celtics, "2-on-1" means "we have the defense in rotation: should I pass or shoot now?" If they have broken the D down to where 2 players have 1 defender, regardless of whether it's on the perimeter or near the rim, they clearly have drilled the players to score or pass with the intent to immediately score. This clarity has a few benefits:
- avoids hesitation when shooting 3s: if you have a 2-on-1 on the perimeter, and you're the open guy, you jack it
- simplifies rim reads: this is a solution to Tatum and Brown going 1-on-2 at the rim. If you are driving, and you're going into bodies, kick it out. Someone else is going to be able to generate a 2-on-1 soon against the now-collapsed D. Conversely, if you do have a 2-on-1 near the rim, shoot it or pass to the open guy. This creates very high-probability looks and minimizes the chance of taking a bad/tough layup that leads to transition. (You can see the Celtics execute this over and over at the rim in the 4th quarter of Game 5 against Cleveland. Note how clean the layup looks are, and how little chance there would have been for Cleveland to run.)

One note: the Celtics don't have an "only 3s or layups" offense, but they prefer 2-on-1s to be 3s or layups. The midrange is mostly exploited for isos and fouls (see the next section).

2. Game theoretic iso shots for some players
The obvious way for an opponent to avoid 2-on-1s is to never be in rotation. One way to try and do this is to switch everything. If a team does that, you need ways to force rotation anyway.

The Celtics do this in a couple ways. The first is that they're very clear on what is a "good iso shot". Only certain players on the team are considered to have them. For Tatum, it's a mid-post iso against some guys, and drive-or-stepback-3 from up top against others. For Jaylen, it's the post bully backdown and the shorter mid-range. For DWhite, it's the quick 3 when a team goes under on a screen. For KP, it's the foul-line jumper.

Jrue has it less, but they see him as an iso advantage in the post or stepping back from 3 against some matchups: he cooked Jokic that way in their 2nd matchup.

The other guys on the team don't have the green light to take iso shots.

3. Economy of motion
Dribbling is tiring and turnover-prone. Passing, although useful, is dangerous. It's harder to make good decisions against a set defense than one in rotation, so try to get the other team in rotation while doing fewer tiring and dangerous things. Doing less tiring stuff on offense means you can play defense better and for more minutes, while the opposing defense has to work about as hard in either case.

The Celtics ideal possession is one in which they get a defense in rotation with very minimal dribbling, using either screens or a defense's anticipation of an upcoming action against it. From there, they count on their ability to exploit the initial rotation (dribbling/decision-making) and then to finish the play with the quality shooting they have across the roster.

Tatum is particularly elite at this: he makes great passes to exploit defenses loading up on his initial dribble, which then put the opponent in rotation. The nice thing about these passes is that they don't require him to make really hard dynamic reads or on-the-fly reads deep in the lane. This exploits his elite game recognition while de-emphasizing his weaker dynamic decision making ability.

4. Screens force rotation
The Celtics can force rotations with isos, and they're fine doing that. However, much like the peak Warriors, they prefer to force them with screens. This conserves energy, is more dynamic, and can work even if the other team has good defenders.

They screen in a lot of different ways. Adam Taylor has covered the screens in exhaustive detail this year on CelticsBlog in his Takeaways. Just a few:
- empty side PnR
- ghost screens up top (usually DWhite or Jaylen)
- screen-the-screener PnR ("ram")
- screens for a poster
- slip screens to roll in the lane
- flare screens on the perimeter (these are particularly cool because of the drive/shoot option the pass receiver has)
- horns with cuts/screens off it (these start to look a bit like Warriors' split cuts)

This works because they have a lot of guys who are dangerous shooters and rollers, so any mistake or indecision by the defense can lead to rotation, which then can eventually be exploited into a 2-on-1 somewhere.

Usually they work a defense until they find which screen combos give that team the most trouble, and then just spam that (with a bit of variation and some counters).

Obviously everyone in the NBA screens, but the Celtics are fairly unique in how they try to put the defense in rotation simply from setting screens, before much passing or dribbling happens. The key is to read what is open after the screen or slip (drive, or one of several passes), and then take that action to immediately force rotation.

5. Identify isos early
One particular point of emphasis for MazzullaBall is not wasting iso advantages, because they so consistently lead to rotation and 2-for-1s. Jaylen, in particular, has been drilled relentlessly to hunt cross-matches in transition, and other guys know to then find him. The other guys generally do a really good job of finding him in those spots. When it feels like the Celtics are playing "fast", it's often because the opponent is doing a bad job matching up in transition, and yielding a lot of those early iso opportunities.

Celtics-Specific Notes
This can look very "stagnant", because the ball doesn't move much until the rotation is forced. When the correct initial action is an iso, it can look even more stagnant, as if the Celtics are running a 90s illegal-defense-era offense. Sometimes it is stagnant (especially when they're running clock in the 4th), but usually it's the viewer who doesn't understand what's going on. We're all so visually accustomed to high PnR or an Embiid/Jokic/Giannis triggering an offense that it looks weird when guys seem to just be running around or positioning themselves on the perimeter.

Also, this only works because of the Celtics roster. You need a ton of elite decision-makers/ball-handlers/shooters to be able to continuously exploit rotation in this manner. If you have e.g. Nic Batum instead of Al Horford, the possession just stalls out instantly when he catches it in the corner. (Miami nearly beat Philly in the play-in by exploiting this, before he went on a heater from 3.)
 
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Eric Fernsten's Disco Mustache

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MazzullaBall, Part 1: Motivations
MazzullaBall Part 2: Principles

@lovegtm This great stuff-- thanks for taking the time to write it up

I have a bunch of thoughts on this front, which build on what you're saying. Especially w/r/t how the Celtics respond to different defenses (e.g. what did the do about the "Bam problem" in round 1; and Mobley in round 2) as well as how this offense changes when KP is playing big minutes vs. when he's not. (Since KP got injured we've been seeing something like 'this year's' offense approach, adjusted and as executed by something closer to 'prior year's' rotation and personnel

Won't get to this until later, but for now...

 

lovegtm

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Thanks all, and to re-iterate:
  • I do not think the Celtics are a lock to win the title
  • There are definitely ways to slow down this offense (JBB found some cool ones, although they weren't sustainable)
  • The approach requires a ton of effort and attention to detail, because it only works if every guy can generate/exploit 2-on-1s when the defense is in initial rotation
I'm particularly worried about Denver, for one specific reason: they are really good at gumming up the initial action with 2-on-the-ball, but then rotating behind really, really well to shut off the resulting advantage. This killed the Celtics offense in the second matchup, although the Cs got back in the game by exploiting the Jrue-Jokic iso.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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Thanks all, and to re-iterate:
  • I do not think the Celtics are a lock to win the title
  • There are definitely ways to slow down this offense (JBB found some cool ones, although they weren't sustainable)
  • The approach requires a ton of effort and attention to detail, because it only works if every guy can generate/exploit 2-on-1s when the defense is in initial rotation
I'm particularly worried about Denver, for one specific reason: they are really good at gumming up the initial action with 2-on-the-ball, but then rotating behind really, really well to shut off the resulting advantage. This killed the Celtics offense in the second matchup, although the Cs got back in the game by exploiting the Jrue-Jokic iso.
Yeah thanks for doing that. Great post. Particularly like that you lead off with "2 on 1s," which seems to be Mazulla's biggest obsession.

I agree that what DEN does really well is putting 2 on the ball and then zoning up behind that but without having re-watched the game, memory says that this defense is most effective when there's one guy on the floor who can be left alone - or kind of left alone - and with the Cs, that's Al.

The Cs 5-out offense caused DEN lots of problems (often to leading to KP 3Ps). But on the other end, Jokic was able to punish KP. OTOH, when Al plays, DEN's defense matches up better (and they can rest Jokic on Al) but Al defends Jokic much better than KP (at least to this point).

So if DEN and BOS play, I will be super interested to see how much time Al gets on the floor with Jokic. I wonder if CJM just says, "F it, we're going to go all math on them" and just try to beat Jokic's 2Ps with 3Ps. The danger with that is the Jokic can be so efficient at 2Ps, DEN might be able to out-math the Cs even if the Cs are hitting 3Ps at a decent clip. Or maybe CJM figures out a way around DEN's defense and can play Al. Chess match indeed.
 

lovegtm

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Yeah thanks for doing that. Great post. Particularly like that you lead off with "2 on 1s," which seems to be Mazulla's biggest obsession.

I agree that what DEN does really well is putting 2 on the ball and then zoning up behind that but without having re-watched the game, memory says that this defense is most effective when there's one guy on the floor who can be left alone - or kind of left alone - and with the Cs, that's Al.

The Cs 5-out offense caused DEN lots of problems (often to leading to KP 3Ps). But on the other end, Jokic was able to punish KP. OTOH, when Al plays, DEN's defense matches up better (and they can rest Jokic on Al) but Al defends Jokic much better than KP (at least to this point).

So if DEN and BOS play, I will be super interested to see how much time Al gets on the floor with Jokic. I wonder if CJM just says, "F it, we're going to go all math on them" and just try to beat Jokic's 2Ps with 3Ps. The danger with that is the Jokic can be so efficient at 2Ps, DEN might be able to out-math the Cs even if the Cs are hitting 3Ps at a decent clip. Or maybe CJM figures out a way around DEN's defense and can play Al. Chess match indeed.
It wasn't so much that they left Al: it was that they rotated to spots that Tatum wasn't expecting, and did so with a lot of force/speed.

Leaving Al is a really bad move. Cleveland tried cheating off him in help, and Tatum just passed, the ball, Al drove, forced rotation, and you have 2-on-1s.

I'm moderately confident that Boston would solve Denver's defense with film and prep time. Minnesota has started to, as the series has gone on (their early success was mostly just Ant being unsustainably hot on jumpers).
 

lovegtm

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MazzullaBall Part 3: Case Study

Enough walls of text. Here (linked at the 7:02 mark) is the Celtics' run that sealed game 5 against Cleveland. This has examples of most aspects of MazzullaBall.
View: https://youtu.be/cD4xfiIMKNk?si=NJPmtQAeMDZjY5km&t=422


7:02 - Tatum quickly identifies Jaylen has an iso against Garland. (I edited the "Principles" post above to talk about identifying isos). Mobley helps off Horford (otherwise it's a low-risk bullyball/layup opportunity), and that leaves Strus 2-on-1 against White/Horford. He chooses Horford, and so White knows he's shooting before the ball hits his hand: no hesitation.

7:14 - White's screen is used to force action from Cleveland. In this case, Garland hedges weakly, and Tatum knew from the start he was going to drive by it. Cleveland collapses 3 guys to the rim, and there's a 2-on-1 up top with White and Horford on the perimeter. Garland chooses White, so Horford knows he's always always shooting when the ball gets to him.

7:25 - They use the threat of Horford iso'ing in the paint to pull Strus in, and Tatum hits Brown in the opposite corner. That lets Brown immediately beat Strus, Garland is sealed by Horford, so it's a 2-on-1 with Mobley against Brown/Horford. Once Mobley commits to Brown, it's a simple dump-off. The whole thing takes 3 dribbles and 4 seconds total, but moves completely from one side of the floor to the other.

7:34 - Same screen by DWhite for Tatum, who knows he's attacking from the start. One of the iso shots they have the green light to always take opens up: the Tatum off-the-dribble 3, going left. Game theoretically, you kind of have to take these if you want to trigger other responses from the D.

8:05 - I love this one. If the Cavs aren't going to switch, may as well have DWhite just drive, with Garland behind the play, because Strus is going to peel back to Tatum. Because White is ahead of Garland, and Mobley has to be able to close out to Horford, White correctly recognizes that this is a 2-on-1 with him and Brown against Mook. Mook commits to DWhite to stop the floater, and it's an easy lob to Jaylen.

8:15 - Another one I love. Cleveland is gearing up for another screen with White driving at Garland, and they think Jrue will set it. Morris is trying to deny Jrue from setting the screen, while Merrill also has to stay with Jrue, his man. All of that nonsense leaves Tatum wide-open on the perimeter. Coaches HATE leaving Tatum open on the perimeter, because of exactly what happens next. He drives the closeout, the D collapses, and now Jrue/DWhite are 2-on-1 against Morris on the perimeter. Tatum chooses Jrue, and he buries the rhythm 3.

8:25 - Tatum drives a ballscreen from White, and this time, Cleveland traps. Strus is 2-on-1 with White at the 3-point line, and Jrue in the dunker. Tatum fakes to White and passes to Jrue for the layup.

Notes
  • This all looks very "stagnant". There isn't much initial movement, and not much passing or dribbling.
  • At the same time, it's very compromising for the defense, and there are a lot of hard choices to make. Any wrong decisions become 2-on-1s, which the Celtics have the personnel and drilling to execute very well.
  • Everything is decisive: the players' reads are simplified, and they don't need to overthink.
  • Not tons of traditional PnR or iso, although they did use the Tatum/DWhite 2-man game up high a decent bit, because of how Cleveland was playing things with Garland. This will probably become relevant against Brunson or Halliburton in the ECF.
  • Jaylen and DWhite are really really good at generating 2-on-1s by beating their man off a closeout. Once he's behind them, they know he's out of the play if they press the advantage, and a rim or 3 2-for-1 will open up quickly after that.
 

lovegtm

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MazzullaBall Part 4: How to Stop It

The above is not a "hagiography", and is not intended to convince skeptics that the Celtics have the best offense ever and will roll to a title.

It's how the Celtics' offense works, and how they try to exploit the hard decisions they can force.

Adjustments for stopping a given offense are usually micro (small details) and not macro (lineup choices, "drop vs switch"). NBA coaches are also way better at this than I am, and I'm frequently suprised and impressed at defensive micro solutions that they come up with.

That said, here's the rough current blueprints I see for gumming up Boston's offense:

1. The Minnesota/OKC approach
Switch everything 1-4, and use your elite center and guys who can chase over screens to make it hard to attack. Concede floaters in 2-on-1s. Execute switching really well, so that ghost screens don't leave you out of position. Be confident that your guys can handle assignments without much extra help. Live with Tatum and Brown taking iso shots, as long as your guys can not foul and make enough of those shots not be at the rim.

2. The Denver approach
Jokic and Murray are going to get absolutely roasted if you switch everything and leave them in iso, so that's not an option. Instead, aggressively put 2 on the ball a lot, and mix up the backside rotations. Play with a ton of force. Don't concede the short roll -- prefer to force skip passes, and trust you can get back to everyone properly when scrambling.

3. Everyone else
I don't think that Denver, NYK, or Indy have the personnel to successfully slow down what Boston does. Luka can hold up against a lot of guys when he tries, but Brown and Tatum cook him so consistently that Dallas will be bleeding buckets or in rotation too much. Their best chance is to do something like Denver's frantic backside rotations--I just don't think they're as good at it as Denver (at the highest levels).

The Knicks were scary when fully healthy, and rotate really really well behind the play. However, they're not healthy--no OG is just a bridge too far, and that's even before you get to Randle. They've been getting pretty cooked defensively in these playoffs, and need to rebound every miss on offense to keep up.


Can the best West teams take the Celtics out of their game, on offense? I think so, yes. The Cs will only win the title if they can adjust to the specific stuff those teams do to drag them into the mud, and there will likely be some very rough stretches along the way as they try to solve those problems. I think Boston is good, and has battle-tested its offense pretty hard this year, but nothing compares to playoff intensity. Probably a 50-50 shot against the field at this point.
 

lovegtm

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One thing I’ve always tried to tell people, and it’s somewhat tied into what you’ve been posting recently is that how players are defended is far more important than most realize. And while it’s taken time, Tatum being as aggressively defended as he has been the past 3/4 years is really paying off.
3-4 years ago, I expected that his peak offensive upside would happen if he got his stepback 3 to 40% and required constant Curry-esque help up top.

Instead, he's enabled a full offensive ecosystem because opposing coaches:
- hate leaving him in the midpost against mismatches
- are scared of his catch-and-shoot 3
- hate letting him catch it open and attack closeouts

It also helps that the current approach is a lot lower variance, and lets him impact the offense massively even when his jumper isn't falling. Imo, this is what sets him apart offensively from Ant right now.
 

lovegtm

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The possession where Jaylen drew Lively's 5th foul shows why the Celtics are so much harder than other teams for Dallas to defend.

Tatum drives, draws help, and gets it to Jrue in the dunker's spot.

Jrue passes to Jaylen in the corner, and Dallas' rotations start. THEY'RE GOOD AND WELL-EXECUTED ROTATIONS.

KP looks open, but Kleber rotates out to him perfectly, as Washington closes to Jaylen in the corner.

The difference between Boston and other teams is that Jaylen has a small advantage, and he exploits it. So Dallas is right back at a disadvantage. Hauser and Tatum actually mess up and stand next to each other, but there were options for Jaylen to kick and probably get a 2-on-1 for a 3-pointer or drive if he doesn't draw the foul.

tldr; Dallas is doing their base shit well, and the Celtics are much better set up than other teams to attack it.

View: https://youtu.be/B3MIEUuwtLA?si=_-b1dHHS2vtbwLWy&t=113
 

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MazzullaBall Part 3: Case Study

Enough walls of text. Here (linked at the 7:02 mark) is the Celtics' run that sealed game 5 against Cleveland. This has examples of most aspects of MazzullaBall.
View: https://youtu.be/cD4xfiIMKNk?si=NJPmtQAeMDZjY5km&t=422


7:02 - Tatum quickly identifies Jaylen has an iso against Garland. (I edited the "Principles" post above to talk about identifying isos). Mobley helps off Horford (otherwise it's a low-risk bullyball/layup opportunity), and that leaves Strus 2-on-1 against White/Horford. He chooses Horford, and so White knows he's shooting before the ball hits his hand: no hesitation.

7:14 - White's screen is used to force action from Cleveland. In this case, Garland hedges weakly, and Tatum knew from the start he was going to drive by it. Cleveland collapses 3 guys to the rim, and there's a 2-on-1 up top with White and Horford on the perimeter. Garland chooses White, so Horford knows he's always always shooting when the ball gets to him.

7:25 - They use the threat of Horford iso'ing in the paint to pull Strus in, and Tatum hits Brown in the opposite corner. That lets Brown immediately beat Strus, Garland is sealed by Horford, so it's a 2-on-1 with Mobley against Brown/Horford. Once Mobley commits to Brown, it's a simple dump-off. The whole thing takes 3 dribbles and 4 seconds total, but moves completely from one side of the floor to the other.

7:34 - Same screen by DWhite for Tatum, who knows he's attacking from the start. One of the iso shots they have the green light to always take opens up: the Tatum off-the-dribble 3, going left. Game theoretically, you kind of have to take these if you want to trigger other responses from the D.

8:05 - I love this one. If the Cavs aren't going to switch, may as well have DWhite just drive, with Garland behind the play, because Strus is going to peel back to Tatum. Because White is ahead of Garland, and Mobley has to be able to close out to Horford, White correctly recognizes that this is a 2-on-1 with him and Brown against Mook. Mook commits to DWhite to stop the floater, and it's an easy lob to Jaylen.

8:15 - Another one I love. Cleveland is gearing up for another screen with White driving at Garland, and they think Jrue will set it. Morris is trying to deny Jrue from setting the screen, while Merrill also has to stay with Jrue, his man. All of that nonsense leaves Tatum wide-open on the perimeter. Coaches HATE leaving Tatum open on the perimeter, because of exactly what happens next. He drives the closeout, the D collapses, and now Jrue/DWhite are 2-on-1 against Morris on the perimeter. Tatum chooses Jrue, and he buries the rhythm 3.

8:25 - Tatum drives a ballscreen from White, and this time, Cleveland traps. Strus is 2-on-1 with White at the 3-point line, and Jrue in the dunker. Tatum fakes to White and passes to Jrue for the layup.

Notes
  • This all looks very "stagnant". There isn't much initial movement, and not much passing or dribbling.
  • At the same time, it's very compromising for the defense, and there are a lot of hard choices to make. Any wrong decisions become 2-on-1s, which the Celtics have the personnel and drilling to execute very well.
  • Everything is decisive: the players' reads are simplified, and they don't need to overthink.
  • Not tons of traditional PnR or iso, although they did use the Tatum/DWhite 2-man game up high a decent bit, because of how Cleveland was playing things with Garland. This will probably become relevant against Brunson or Halliburton in the ECF.
  • Jaylen and DWhite are really really good at generating 2-on-1s by beating their man off a closeout. Once he's behind them, they know he's out of the play if they press the advantage, and a rim or 3 2-for-1 will open up quickly after that.
Timpf uses a lot of this same sequence to explain, not coincidentally, not the system but why Tatum “is the PERFECT star for Boston.” Only two dribbles off of action and one shot during the period where they took over the game, but intimately involved in almost all of the offense through creating advantages and putting the defense into rotation that frequently doesn’t show up in the box score and not even in extended stats like “potential assists” because they don’t count hockey assists.

It’s 11:37 (really starts at 2m mark) without film, but his explanations are so lucid and of plays of such great execution that even I could grasp it. And then, of course, @lovegtm helpfully posted the relevant video with breakdowns. :D

View: https://youtu.be/MTIS2lI9G0g
 
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lovegtm

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Timpf uses a lot of this same sequence to explain, not coincidentally, not the system but why Tatum “is the PERFECT star for Boston.” Only two dribbles off of action and one shot during the period where they took over the game, but intimately involved in almost all of the offense through creating advantages and putting the defense into rotation that frequently doesn’t show up in the box score and not even in extended stats like “potential assists” because they don’t count hockey assists.

It’s 11:37 (really starts at 2m mark) without film, but his explanations are so lucid and of plays of such great execution that even I could grasp it. And then, of course, @lovegtm helpfully posted the relevant video with breakdowns. :D

View: https://youtu.be/MTIS2lI9G0g
Timpf has come to understand Boston's offense perfectly. I highly recommend his video breakdowns if you want to understand what Boston is trying to do on both ends, in the micro aspects.

I really don't like "hockey assists", because they often are meaningless and not indicative of advantages created. Honestly, as much as people hate it, sometimes you gotta use your eyes to see what's going on.
 

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I really don't like "hockey assists", because they often are meaningless and not indicative of advantages created. Honestly, as much as people hate it, sometimes you gotta use your eyes to see what's going on.
Oh, I wouldn’t advocate for tallying hockey assists in basketball; rather, I was noting that if they did, Tatum would have a lot. What I took from Timpf’s breakdown in the video was how Tatum was embodying some of the principles you mentioned, in particular putting the defense into rotation to gain advantages with an economy of motion. And as to Tatum’s role, here not getting mired in discussions of if he had a good game or is a top 5 player ( :popcorn: ) where he can get things going through his recognition skills so he doesn’t have to get bogged down in unnecessary dribbling and considering iso or not and whatnot. It’s a pretty impressive example of how inadequate the box score really is, and not just for Tatum but watching the team execute as almost an organic unit.
 

lovegtm

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Oh, I wouldn’t advocate for tallying hockey assists in basketball; rather, I was noting that if they did, Tatum would have a lot. What I took from Timpf’s breakdown in the video was how Tatum was embodying some of the principles you mentioned, in particular putting the defense into rotation to gain advantages with an economy of motion. And as to Tatum’s role, here not getting mired in discussions of if he had a good game or is a top 5 player ( :popcorn: ) where he can get things going through his recognition skills so he doesn’t have to get bogged down in unnecessary dribbling and considering iso or not and whatnot. It’s a pretty impressive example of how inadequate the box score really is, and not just for Tatum but watching the team execute as almost an organic unit.
Yeah, box score is really really flawed. I instantly downweight the opinion of media figures who appeal to (eg) raw efficiency figured for individual players.
 

lovegtm

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I really want to watch this game again (or the infinite breakdowns that will come out the next 2 days), because Dallas found some stuff defensively to slow down the drive and kick. The first noticeable thing was playing a ton of zone with their center, but I need to see what else was going on.

One minor thing I noticed was that they dared Jaylen to shoot 3s, while still contesting a bit (i.e. not Full Draymond). Lots of other little stuff--they definitely wanted to give more of a cushion to stop the drives. Nice, subtle stuff by Kidd in my initial recollections.
 
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TomRicardo

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I really want to watch this game again (or the infinite breakdowns that will come out the next 2 days), because Dallas found some stuff defensively to slow down the drive and kick. The first noticeable thing was playing a ton of zone with their center, but I need to see what else was going on.

One minor thing I noticed was that they dared Jaylen to shoot 3s, while still contesting a bit (i.e. not Full Draymond). Lots of other little stuff--they definitely wanted to give more of a cushion to stop the drives. Nice, subtle stuff by Kidd in my initial recollections.
His biggest mistake was not pulling Pritchard earlier in the 4th but I get he was trying to get Jrue a breather.
 

lovegtm

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I really want to watch this game again (or the infinite breakdowns that will come out the next 2 days), because Dallas found some stuff defensively to slow down the drive and kick. The first noticeable thing was playing a ton of zone with their center, but I need to see what else was going on.

One minor thing I noticed was that they dared Jaylen to shoot 3s, while still contesting a bit (i.e. not Full Draymond). Lots of other little stuff--they definitely wanted to give more of a cushion to stop the drives. Nice, subtle stuff by Kidd in my initial recollections.
Rewatching the 4th now: it's honestly a really boring analysis. When the Celtics stuck to the plan of attacking a weak Dallas defender (sometimes moving things around first to get to the 2nd side), good things happened.

When they went at someone like PJ Washington directly, or Kyrie on the perimeter (as opposed to at the foul line), bad things happened. They did this a lot, and so bad things happened a lot.

Such a weird quarter, when they had stayed laser-focused on the offensive gameplan to this point in the series.
 

2SeamLockup

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@lovegtm If I can ask--Joe said something last night in the postgame presser that I wonder if you noticed in your rewatch--I'm paraphrasing but he said something like, he thought the scoring drought happened because the Cs were missing their first reads, and then not getting to the second reads fast enough, or not finding them fast enough. I'm not sure I understood what he meant, but I figure you might. Is he saying that Dallas made an adjustment that changed what the reads should have been? Presumably the Cs had been making the correct reads during their big run, so I would guess that they wouldn't just suddenly stop making good reads for no reason?
 

lovegtm

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@lovegtm If I can ask--Joe said something last night in the postgame presser that I wonder if you noticed in your rewatch--I'm paraphrasing but he said something like, he thought the scoring drought happened because the Cs were missing their first reads, and then not getting to the second reads fast enough, or not finding them fast enough. I'm not sure I understood what he meant, but I figure you might. Is he saying that Dallas made an adjustment that changed what the reads should have been? Presumably the Cs had been making the correct reads during their big run, so I would guess that they wouldn't just suddenly stop making good reads for no reason?
I need to check again. Probably Dallas did something to mess up the way the Celtics had been manipulating the Mavs' 1-man zone after halftime. Here's a good video on that:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myZrj06fHsY
 

lovegtm

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OK, I see now what was going on. I'll give one play as an example: at 09:53 in the 4th, Jaylen misses a 3 in the corner. Tatum is trying to signal that they have Lively pulled out on Jaylen, and so they should reverse the ball to Tatum to get him on Kyrie in the post. Instead, Jaylen just jacks the 3.

It's not a horrible shot, and one he arguably should make to keep Lively honest, but there was a better play available.

The 4th quarter is just tons of stuff like that: half a step lazy and slow on defense, little bits of laziness on offense.

I think they'll watch the film, lock in, and be good on Friday (or in a game 5, if shooting goes against them). The center zone was one of Dallas' last cards to play, and Mazzulla wrecked it at halftime.
 

RorschachsMask

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OK, I see now what was going on. I'll give one play as an example: at 09:53 in the 4th, Jaylen misses a 3 in the corner. Tatum is trying to signal that they have Lively pulled out on Jaylen, and so they should reverse the ball to Tatum to get him on Kyrie in the post. Instead, Jaylen just jacks the 3.

It's not a horrible shot, and one he arguably should make to keep Lively honest, but there was a better play available.

The 4th quarter is just tons of stuff like that: half a step lazy and slow on defense, little bits of laziness on offense.

I think they'll watch the film, lock in, and be good on Friday (or in a game 5, if shooting goes against them). The center zone was one of Dallas' last cards to play, and Mazzulla wrecked it at halftime.
Pritchard had a BRUTAL stretch to start the 4th lol.

Tatum is like a QB, was reading everything and telling everyone where to go. He kept making sure Jaylen got the ball over the last 8 minutes or so.
 

slamminsammya

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Pritchard had a BRUTAL stretch to start the 4th lol.

Tatum is like a QB, was reading everything and telling everyone where to go. He kept making sure Jaylen got the ball over the last 8 minutes or so.
I recall pritchard being handed a few grenades with like 5 seconds in the shot clock. was that not the case?
 

lovegtm

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I recall pritchard being handed a few grenades with like 5 seconds in the shot clock. was that not the case?
It was the case. I need to check again for whether the ball reversal misreads were his fault--in the possession I mentioned, it was more on Jaylen, I think.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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@lovegtm If I can ask--Joe said something last night in the postgame presser that I wonder if you noticed in your rewatch--I'm paraphrasing but he said something like, he thought the scoring drought happened because the Cs were missing their first reads, and then not getting to the second reads fast enough, or not finding them fast enough. I'm not sure I understood what he meant, but I figure you might. Is he saying that Dallas made an adjustment that changed what the reads should have been? Presumably the Cs had been making the correct reads during their big run, so I would guess that they wouldn't just suddenly stop making good reads for no reason?
Maybe this will help. A few plays. BOS was up 91-70 with 10:35 left.
  • 10:33. BOS runs the same play as in the Thinking Basketball clip only its PP with the ball. They run the empty-side PnR. JT posts up Green. PP passes to White on top. Lively is overhelping on JT. Ball should swing to Al and then JB in the corner but DW goes to pass it to Al, Al is setting a pick on his man for JB (this was successful once) but the pick doesn't work and JB gets the ball without a shot. He drives on Lively and gives it up to PP with about 5 seconds on the shot clock - miss.
    • On the other end, PJ hits a contested ATB over Al. Still lead is 18.
  • 10:02. Same play only DW is the ball handler. JT is being guarded by Hardaway. DW gets the ball to PP and PP for some reason uses a Horford PnR instead of reading that JT is guarded by Hardaway. PP dribbles the ball to the opposite side of JT and then passes to JB in the corner, where Lively comes out to defend. JB puts up a contested 3P and misses. Despite having the mismatch, JT never touches the ball. No OReb crashes either
    • On other end, Lively gets cross-matched on PP and that ends up in a non-shooting foul.
    • On subsequent play, DAL gets Luka on PP and empties out the side; Luka puts PP in the basket. Lead is 16
  • 9.33. This was the play where Luka decided to pick up PP full-court and got his 4th foul. Dumb.
  • 9:24. Not sure what PP was doing on this play. He got the PnR to get JT on Luka (PJ took PP) but didn't go to JT. He went away to Jrue. Jrue got the ball back to PP, who decided to try to ISO against PJ. Didn't go well.
    • Doncic got a wide-open 3P (PP fell) and didn't hit it. Whether it was because everyone figured Luka was going to make it there was no boxing out. Lively had an easy put-back. Lead is 14.
  • 8:47. This time it's a high DW/JT PnR. This time DW gets JT the ball, who is being guarded by Kryie. JT goes one-on-one; takes a foul-line extended jumper. Clang. This shot wasn't great but JT did have the advantage. Cs did puruse OReb but didn't get it.
    • Luka drives in transition; gets to the right baseline; gets double-teamed by JT and Jrue and does that over-the-head pass to Josh Green ATB. He finally hits this one (light contest by DW). Lead is 11.
  • TO Cs.
  • 8:23. Cs run motion out top (Jrue, JB, and JT) and end up with JT on PJ. JT ISOs versus PJW and turns the ball over. Not sure of the process here.
    • PJW gets fouled in transition. Lead is 9.
  • 7:55. Cs went back to the play that started the entire run except this time it's Jrue with the ball and JB with the post. JB gets Luka on him. Jrue gets ball to DW and DW does what PP did and uses an Al pick to get the ball to JT. Only Lively is tight on JT so he gives the ball to JB being guarded by Luka in the post. JB hits big turnaround. Lead is 11.
    • DAL runs double-screen for Kryie; he hits floated over DW. Lead is 9.
  • 7:19. BOS runs same play on the other side of the court except this time Jrue is being guarded by Josh Green so when JB sets the pick, JB has Green to post-up. Ball swings to JT in the corner. JB never really tries to get position on Green so JT has to take Lively off the dribble. JT beats Lively; Green gives some token help but isn't really a factor. JT gets a decent look moving away from the rim but can't finish. JT thought he got pushed and probably did. There is no immediately open passing lane for anyone as well.
    • In transition, Luka drives on DW. Al stunts and then comes into help. Al probably made a mistake here given BOS is up 9. Doncic finds PJW in the corner, who buries the open corner 3P. Lead is 6.
  • 6:55. BOS runs the JB/Jrue PnR to get JB on Luka at the top. I'll note here that here that JB got the ball with 12 on the shot clock. JB goes for the "kill" shot - an ATB 3P. Too bad he misses. I presume JB figured that's a good a shot as BOS is going to get.
    • Luka brings the ball up, gets JT on a pick, drives and misses a lay-up/floating bank shot.
  • 6:21. Luka ends up on the ground after missing his shot. Ball gets to Al on the wing. BOS is playing 5-4. Should be easy money. But Al is called for the travel. I think Al was thinking about putting up the 3P but decided against it and it looked funky so the refs called it. Unlucky.
    • Irving step-back 3P over Jrue. Jrue fouled him. Lead is 3.
  • 6:11. BOS runs motion out top with Jrue, JT, and JB. This time it ends with JB ISO versus PJW. PJW holds up and forces another TO. Not loving this play.
    • Kryie decides to take Jrue. He doesn't beat Jrue and gives it up to Lively, who fumbles the ball but gets it out to PJW. PJW pump-fakes and then throws up a 3P. (PJW should have just shot the ball.) PJW misses; Lively tips it out; this is the play where Luka takes down JB. JT comes up with the ball.
  • 5:34. JT has the ball against Kryie. JT tries to take him but Kryie holds up. JT gets the ball to Jrue, who is being "guarded" by Luka. Jrue goes to the top of the key; has open 3P; and misses. There's 14 on the shot clock. Doris says that's not a great shot by Jrue, but Jrue has been making that shot all series so I disagree.
    • DAL time-out
The next play down Luka missed a shot over JT and BOS's next trip was Luka's 5th foul. Following that, JB drove on Luka and got the ball to Al for an open 3P that he missed. Kyrie missed a bank shot, and then was Luka's sixth foul.

All in all, particularly at the beginning of the run, I agree that BOS missed some reads. There were at least 3 instances where BOS went ISO versus PJW where CJM could be referring to missing second reads or not getting into second actions fast enough. They also got unlucky (e.g., the Al TO).

To me, this shows how precise NBA teams have to be in their offense to score consistently - and how good the Cs normally are.
 

Jimbodandy

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It was the case. I need to check again for whether the ball reversal misreads were his fault--in the possession I mentioned, it was more on Jaylen, I think.
He was kinda reverting to old Pritchard for a few minutes too, dribbling into trouble with no plan, wasting precious shot clock seconds, and had a couple of bad defensive possessions too. It happens. Hauser had a shift of bad possessions in game 2, and came out with force in game 3. Must be a little harder for guys playing reserve minutes and then jumping into a game with these levels of intensity. That's not to say that he didn't get a couple of hand grenades, but overall seemed like the game was moving a bit too quickly for him. He also had a few good possessions, especially on D.
 

Reverend

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Maybe this will help. A few plays. BOS was up 91-70 with 10:35 left.
  • 10:33. BOS runs the same play as in the Thinking Basketball clip only its PP with the ball. They run the empty-side PnR. JT posts up Green. PP passes to White on top. Lively is overhelping on JT. Ball should swing to Al and then JB in the corner but DW goes to pass it to Al, Al is setting a pick on his man for JB (this was successful once) but the pick doesn't work and JB gets the ball without a shot. He drives on Lively and gives it up to PP with about 5 seconds on the shot clock - miss.
    • On the other end, PJ hits a contested ATB over Al. Still lead is 18.
  • 10:02. Same play only DW is the ball handler. JT is being guarded by Hardaway. DW gets the ball to PP and PP for some reason uses a Horford PnR instead of reading that JT is guarded by Hardaway. PP dribbles the ball to the opposite side of JT and then passes to JB in the corner, where Lively comes out to defend. JB puts up a contested 3P and misses. Despite having the mismatch, JT never touches the ball. No OReb crashes either
    • On other end, Lively gets cross-matched on PP and that ends up in a non-shooting foul.
    • On subsequent play, DAL gets Luka on PP and empties out the side; Luka puts PP in the basket. Lead is 16
  • 9.33. This was the play where Luka decided to pick up PP full-court and got his 4th foul. Dumb.
  • 9:24. Not sure what PP was doing on this play. He got the PnR to get JT on Luka (PJ took PP) but didn't go to JT. He went away to Jrue. Jrue got the ball back to PP, who decided to try to ISO against PJ. Didn't go well.
    • Doncic got a wide-open 3P (PP fell) and didn't hit it. Whether it was because everyone figured Luka was going to make it there was no boxing out. Lively had an easy put-back. Lead is 14.
  • 8:47. This time it's a high DW/JT PnR. This time DW gets JT the ball, who is being guarded by Kryie. JT goes one-on-one; takes a foul-line extended jumper. Clang. This shot wasn't great but JT did have the advantage. Cs did puruse OReb but didn't get it.
    • Luka drives in transition; gets to the right baseline; gets double-teamed by JT and Jrue and does that over-the-head pass to Josh Green ATB. He finally hits this one (light contest by DW). Lead is 11.
  • TO Cs.
  • 8:23. Cs run motion out top (Jrue, JB, and JT) and end up with JT on PJ. JT ISOs versus PJW and turns the ball over. Not sure of the process here.
    • PJW gets fouled in transition. Lead is 9.
  • 7:55. Cs went back to the play that started the entire run except this time it's Jrue with the ball and JB with the post. JB gets Luka on him. Jrue gets ball to DW and DW does what PP did and uses an Al pick to get the ball to JT. Only Lively is tight on JT so he gives the ball to JB being guarded by Luka in the post. JB hits big turnaround. Lead is 11.
    • DAL runs double-screen for Kryie; he hits floated over DW. Lead is 9.
  • 7:19. BOS runs same play on the otherside of the court except this time Jrue is being guarded by Josh Green so when JB sets the pick, JB has Green to post-up. Ball swings to JT in the corner. JB never really tries to get position on Green so JT has to take Lively off the dribble. JT beats Lively; Green gives some token help but isn't really a factor. JT gets a decent look moving away from the rim but can't finish. JT thought he got pushed and probably did. There is no immediately open passing lane for anyone as well.
    • In transition, Luka drives on DW. Al stunts and then comes into help. Al probably made a mistake here given BOS is up 9. Doncic finds PJW in the corner, who buries the open corner 3P. Lead is 6.
  • 6:55. BOS runs the JB/Jrue PnR to get JB on Luka at the top. I'll note here that here that JB got the ball with 12 on the shot clock. JB goes for the "kill" shot - an ATB 3P. Too bad he misses. I presume JB figured that's a good a shot as BOS is going to get.
    • Luka brings the ball up, gets JT on a pick, drives and misses a lay-up/floating bank shot.
  • 6:21. Luka ends up on the ground after missing his shot. Ball gets to Al on the wing. BOS is playing 5-4. Should be easy money. But Al is called for the travel. I think Al was thinking about putting up the 3P but decided against it and it looked funky so the refs called it. Unlucky.
    • Irving step-back 3P over Jrue. Jrue fouled him. Lead is 3.
  • 6:11. BOS runs motion out top with Jrue, JT, and JB. This time it ends with JB ISO versus PJW. PJW holds up and forces another TO. Not loving this play.
    • Kryie decides to take Jrue. He doesn't beat Jrue and gives it up to Lively, who fumbles the ball but gets it out to PJW. PJW pump-fakes and then throws up a 3P. (PJW should have just shot the ball.) PJW misses; Lively tips it out; this is the play where Luka takes down JB. JT comes up with the ball.
  • 5:34. JT has the ball against Kryie. JT tries to take him but Kryie holds up. JT gets the ball to Jrue, who is being "guarded" by Luka. Jrue goes to the top of the key; has open 3P; and misses. There's 14 on the shot clock. Doris says that's not a great shot by Jrue, but Jrue has been making that shot all series so I disagree.
    • DAL time-out
The next play down Luka missed a shot over JT and BOS's next trip was Luka's 5th foul. Following that, JB drove on Luka and got the ball to Al for an open 3P that he missed. Kyrie missed a bank shot, and then was Luka's sixth foul.

All in all, particularly at the beginning of the run, I agree that BOS missed some reads. There were at least 3 instances where BOS went ISO versus PJW where CJM could be referring to missing second reads or not getting into second actions fast enough. They also got unlucky (e.g., the Al TO).

To me, this shows how precise NBA teams have to be in their offense to score consistently - and how good the Cs normally are.
How’s that killing time before tip off thing you mentioned goin’?
 

lovegtm

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To me, this shows how precise NBA teams have to be in their offense to score consistently - and how good the Cs normally are.
This was my takeaway too: they played with 10-20% less intensity on both ends during that run. That, combined with Dallas finally hitting some 3s and Boston missing some shots, was enough to take them from having a big edge to a decent disadvantage.

The Celtics' whole edge, on both ends, comes from effort, execution, and coaching. We saw at the end of the regular season against MIL and NYK how thin that margin is. A bit less intensity, and they're suddenly not even a good team.
 

Reverend

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Should we lock this thread if they’re tired the game plan and aren’t gonna run it anymore? /irritated

Obviously kidding, but looking forward to learning if Dallas made adjustments or the Celtics just lost the thread; mic’d up Mazzulla in the team huddle seemed to suggest they just aren’t running the offense. But how? Looking for half-time adjustments should be instructive. (hopefully)
 

Reverend

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Yeah, driving into traffic and stuff. But where’s the thing where they get [Jrue] open looks from the dunker spot? Or driving on a defense collapsing late after he cut because they were spread out? That’s the stuff.
They put a big on him which takes him away and clogs the paint and put Kyrie away from the top of the key
Seems key. Building:

Are the Celtics really even putting the Mavs into rotation the way they have been?
 

riboflav

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No. Good D by the Mavs, but the Celtics had no legs either.
They didn't get Dallas into a lot of rotation but even when they did, Dallas was much sharper in their rotations playing with the energy of a team down, 3-0. Also, Dallas had a lot to do with why the Cs couldn't get them in rotation. That said, there were more opportunities for the Cs to do so but they got easily flustered at times and wouldn't always settle for the single hits.