The Boston Celtics are a day away from what should be their most important playoff run in a decade. Here’s how they can attack the Indiana Pacers’ defense.
It’s Part Two of out Celtics-Pacers preview, where we take a look at how the Celtics can generate offense against Indiana’s defense. We covered the other side of the ball in Part One and determined the Pacers simply do not have the talent on offense to create good shots against a switch-heavy Boston defense.
The opposite is true for Boston. Perhaps one of their bigger issues during the regular season was finding enough shots for all the talented offensive players they have. Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier all have an ability to get a decent shot off if they have to, with obvious varying degrees of success. This will be a key factor in the Celtics’ ability to take care of Indiana quickly because when you have a good scorer going, it makes life on everyone else that much easier.
The Pacers had the third-best defense in the NBA this season, trailing only the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks. They are 25th in the league in pace, so their slower style of offense definitely helps them set up their defense. It’s harder to score on a set defense than a scrambling one, so the Celtics need to put an emphasis on pushing the pace off of misses to force the Pacers to defense out of their comfort zone.
The Celtics were 16th in pace this season, with 80% of their losses coming in games where they played slower than the league average in pace. Indiana doesn’t switch on defense that often, so forcing them to react on the fly breaks their defense down much easier.
Pick and Pop
If the Pacers stick to their defensive principles of not switching unless absolutely necessary, Boston can take full advantage of a pick and pop with Al Horford. In a given ball screen involving Irving, Horford is rarely the main concern. So when Irving can penetrate the defense enough to force Horford’s man to help, Kyrie can easily find his center wide open for three.
In this case, the Pacers blitz Irving on the screen, a common tactic to get the ball out of a talented scorer’s hands, but Horford smartly relocates where the defense isn’t and Irving finds him. A big part of the Pacers’ defensive success this season has been Myles Turner protecting the rim. He led the league in blocks, so having Horford stretch him out would be a big advantage for the Celtics, especially given Horford’s ability to find the open man on a drive past a closeout.
I feel like Brad Stevens’ offensive sets are best when they’re against a defense that doesn’t switch. The misdirection he uses and the heavy weak-side action makes it tough to react to five players who can shoot or attack with efficiency.
If I had to make a prediction for the series, I’d say the Pacers try out their normal defensive scheme to start, the Celtics torch them in the first two games in Boston and then Nate McMillan starts to utilize switching when the series shifts to Indiana. In past years this would spell trouble for the Celtics as we saw last postseason against the Bucks. Milwaukee started switching, and the Celtics had difficulty creating good shots.
Not this year. If the Pacers try to switch, that’d be like ringing the dinner bell for Kyrie Irving.
The Pacers had to switch Thaddeus Young on Irving because he ran a beautiful curl around Horford’s screen and left Cory Joseph in the dust. Kyrie makes a tough shot, but he consistently makes shots like that look easy. Young plays decent defense here, but nine times out of 10 Irving’s going to make a big pay on a switch.
What’s funny is Young is probably Indiana’s best bet for a switch on Irving. Imagine if the Celtics hunt Domantas Sabonis, Doug McDermott or Myles Turner in a switch. Good night.
Hayward is the X-factor in the Celtics’ playoff run. If he plays the way he did to close the regular season, we can start talking about an NBA Finals trip. If not, they won’t make it out of the second round.
I like to think about this matchup as the Pacers sitting in a boat with a bunch of holes trying to keep water out. They’ll have their hands full plugging leaks like their inability to create good looks against a switching defense, or figuring out how to guard the Celtics without switching themselves, and when they do switch, how they’ll be able to keep Kyrie from averaging 35 points a game.
Even if they manage to keep the boat afloat, Hayward could be the shark that comes by and bites the boat in half.
Look for Hayward to reclaim his reputation in this year’s playoffs. His skill set and play style fits perfectly to a playoff series. Any adjustment the opposing team makes, Hayward represents an easy counter.
He can get his own shot attacking a closeout.
He can attack a switch.
And he can play patiently in the pick and roll to find the open man. There’s nothing Hayward can’t do offensively, it’s just a matter of him playing with the confidence to put the Celtics on a different level.
The Pacers will have to work hard on the defensive end to keep the Celtics from scoring more than the 117 points Boston averaged against Indy in the regular season, and they’ll have their hands full trying to generate easy looks on the other end.
There is no way the Celtics should lose this series, but that’s been the problem all season long. Losing games they’re supposed to win. Everyone says the playoffs are different, so we’ll see if they’re right. Indiana’s only path to winning this series may just be to play harder than the Celtics and hope for the best.