For the Celtics, ‘trying to do too much’ must be resolved in order to top Heat - jobs fights tigma
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For the Celtics, ‘trying to do too much’ must be resolved in order to top Heat

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For the Celtics, ‘trying to do too much’ must be resolved in order to top Heat

Even now, in the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics continue to wage the same fight. It’s against themselves. It’s against old habits. It’s against an offensive mindset they can not always kick.

“It’s kind of the test or the battle we’ve had this year,” Ime Udoka said, “of making the simple play.”

Brad Stevens emphasized hitting singles during his time as head coach. Udoka has not used the same terminology publicly but is stressing a similar message. Through two and a half playoff series so far, the Celtics have encountered several run-ins with their long-standing problem. They lost their way against Milwaukee during Game 1 of the second round. Their offense came and went throughout the rest of that series. And after dominating the Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics committed 24 turnovers in Game 3, including 19 of the live-ball variety.

“A lot were us playing in a crowd, trying to do too much, and not making the simple pass,” Udoka said. “And so, when you look at those areas, we’ve had some good carryover at times but, at times, taking a step back.”

The issues trace back to the type of offense Udoka wanted to eliminate from the start of his tenure. Shortly after taking over as head coach, he said he wanted to iron out the team’s “your turn, my turn” tendencies. Throughout the early stages of this season, Udoka routinely pointed out when his team fell shy of his expectations. After a November loss to San Antonio, he said “it seemed like everybody was trying to get themselves going” instead of playing team basketball. After Boston blew a big lead against the Knicks in early January, he said “at times, it feels like everybody tries to do it on their own.”

Those complaints did not last forever. The Celtics started surging around the time of that loss to New York. Overnight, it seemed, they adopted the type of offensive mentality Udoka wanted. The Celtics ranked 22nd in assists per 100 possessions before that loss to the Knicks, fourth in the same category after it. From the trade deadline forward, the Celtics led the league in offensive efficiency, an enormous feat from a group that ranked 24th in the same stat over the first half of the regular season. By the end of the regular season, Boston’s offense understood what it wanted and typically worked to produce just that.

The Celtics have evolved. They’re nothing like they were at the beginning of this campaign. Still, the playoffs have a way of highlighting a team’s worst traits. Opponents take away what players do best and pick on any weaknesses. Problems that do not matter most of the time resurface, especially as the competition intensifies as it has for the Celtics. They needed to deal with Milwaukee’s elite rim protection during the second round and are now tackling a Heat squad loaded with toughness and versatility. Erik Spoelstra, perhaps the world’s greatest basketball tactician, will try all sorts of ways to poke at a team’s flaws. The Celtics have not always suffered from bad offense during the playoffs but have hit enough bumps for the team to address them. Many of the turnovers in Game 3 were just downright sloppy.

“Miami’s a team that loads up like Milwaukee did, like Brooklyn did, so we’ve seen it throughout the playoffs, ”Udoka said,“ and just understanding how to get our guys better looks and making quick decisions and not holding the ball and getting stagnant. ”

When Boston forces plays that aren’t there, the impact bleeds into the other end of the court. Through 14 playoff games so far, the biggest crack in the Celtics ‘defense has often been the Celtics’ offense. When they make smart decisions, take care of the ball and limit transition opportunities for opponents, they almost always have held teams to low point totals. Despite running into Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving spirit Giannis Antetokounmpo over the first two rounds, the Celtics rank first in the playoffs in half-court defensive efficiency, according to Cleaning the Glass. Their half-court numbers during the postseason have been almost identical in wins and losses, suggesting that they can rely on that strength in good times and in bad.

On the other hand, Boston’s transition defense has only outperformed that of three other teams, all of which were knocked out in Round 1: the Raptors, Bulls and Nets, according to Cleaning the Glass. Though the matchup against Antetokounmpo clearly deflated the Celtics’ numbers on that front, they also have put themselves in harm’s way by giving teams too many chances to get out and run. Even in Game 3 against Miami, after the Celtics gave up 39 points on 16-for-25 shooting during the first quarter, the Heat finished with just 96.5 points per 100 half-court plays, which represents a fine outing but not an overwhelming one . Nineteen steals gave Miami plenty of fast-break opportunities to supplement that half-court offense.

“We did our job defensively even after the terrible start in the first quarter,” Grant Williams said. “For us, it’s about making sure we take control of that aspect of the game (offense) and understanding the physicality and everything else and how it’s being officiated. Everything else does not matter. It’s about us executing at that end, and that’s how we’re gonna get stops at the other end. ”

It will not be easy in the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat ratcheted up the physicality with a gritty effort in Game 3. As Udoka pointed out, his starters committed 22 of the team’s 24 turnovers in that game. Tatum had six of them to go along with a 3-for-14 shooting performance. Two teammates who typically make things easier for him, Robert Williams (knee) and Marcus Smart (ankle), are questionable for Game 4 due to injuries. Regardless of who suits up next to Tatum, he needs to find better ways to punish a Miami defense trying to take him away.

“He’s had huge playoff series so far,” said Udoka. “Teams are going to come after him, so for him, it’s looking to get guys involved early. As he makes those passes and makes those reads, the defense always loosens up on him, and he can get going himself. For him, the physicality was there from the start like they’ve always done; PJ (Tucker) always does that. And we had some turnovers early, turnovers late in the second half, as well, when we got back in it, but also not seeing the ball going and starting to force a little bit there. So, just finding a way to get him some easy shots early, understanding they’re gonna load up to four in the paint, five in the paint every time he penetrates.

“So, areas he’s improved on this year, gotta continue to trust his guys, and that will always free it up for him, but we can move him around a little bit more knowing they’s switching everything, showing him a crowd, and he’s not going to get a lot of great looks when it’s isolation time. ”

Tatum was not the only mistake-prone Celtics player in Game 3. After falling behind by 26 points, they felt pressure to respond. Jaylen Brown, who finished with 40 points but also had seven turnovers, said he wanted to “ignite” his team. Though he admitted he needs to take care of the ball better, the thought process behind his attacking mindset made sense.

“We were playing with a lack of emphasis,” Brown said. “We need to play with some heart, some aggression.”

The Celtics also need to play with consistent poise and composure, regardless of their circumstances. They have been working on their patience and decision making all season long. As much improvement as they have made, the stakes are higher now, the competition is greater and every error is magnified. They need to rely on the right process.

“Offensively, I feel like that’s been our thing,” Grant Williams said. “We have to be a little more honed in and locked into that side of the ball.”

(Photo of Jaylen Brown: David Butler II / USA Today)

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