It’s almost do-or-die time for the Celtics. There are pretty simple reasons for how Boston has gotten to this point. The team has been outworked, and any semblance of cohesion on offense was gone before the ball went up last Saturday.
The good news: The ways to fight back are just as simple. (Exhausting to execute, sure, but simple, in theory.)
1. Actually Box Out
Amir Johnson has taken some heat over the last few days, but I give him credit for being the one big to really mix it up with Robin Lopez. In the first quarter, Johnson and Lopez were a blur of limbs, tangled up like they two greased, greco-roman wrestlers—or, as Markieff Morris might call them “double MMA” fighters.
Still, Johnson played 18 minutes in Game 1, just nine in Game 2, and rumor has it he might start on the bench in Game 3. Which means: Everyone else is going to have to literally put their asses out there.
I, like many of you, have been overworked-underpaid-middle-school-basketball-coach pissed at the lack of effort on the boards. The Celtics are watching the ball and waiting for it to fall into their hands while many Bulls players are flinging themselves through the turnstile Cs and snatching away possessions. Through two games, Avery Bradley, the league’s best rebounding two-guard, should not have less rebounds (5) than 35-year-old Dwyane Wade (9). If you remove Marcus Smart, Rajon Rondo (17) has more rebounds than every Celtics bench player combined.
If the Celtics are going to make this a series, they’re going to have to follow Smart’s tenacity—and Johnson’s words of encouragement from the bench—and actually work to get a rebound before they even start thinking about the transition.
2. Give Other Players Agency on Offense
Isaiah Thomas, while understandably not himself, has still led the offense while shooting 16-33 from the field. He also missed six free throws in a game for the first time in his career, and took one late three in Game 2 that hit nothing but glass.
The other Celtics have looked at a loss on offense, not only on how to attack the Bulls D, but what their role should be when Thomas has been neutralized on a possession. Way too often, especially in Game 2, the answer was to rush a three-pointer, often after a steal or on a break, and Celtic shooters just seemed desperate to let fly while they had open space and were facing a double-digit deficit. That kind of rushing led Boston to go 16-41 on uncontested shots in Game 2, while the Bulls found their spots and killed it from midrange, going 13/26, along with shooting 40 percent from three.
Horford needs to step up and play a more central figure. Get a pick-and-roll game going with IT. Distribute from the top of the key to guys cutting to the basket. (Centers have led the team in assists in both games, with Kelly Olynyk racking up seven in Game 1 and Horford dishing eight in Game 2.) Who knows, maybe an uptick in aggression could get Lopez in some foul trouble, and scoring seven points on 3-8 shooting is not the kind of approach that’s going to get that done.
3. Let Rondo Try and Kill Them on Offense
By shooting, specifically.
Celtics defenders need to saaaaaaag off of Rondo, and if it helps, verbally triple-dog dare him to shoot. Let’s see if National TV Rondo can resist the temptation.
Rondo is shooting 11-26 so far. Eight of those makes were from within six feet of the basket. The other three field goals? Longest one was nine feet. He hasn’t made a single shot outside the paint, and that includes six three point attempts. During the regular season…
OK, I need you to guess how badly Rondo shot from 10-14 feet before I tell you, because the answer is not a percentage far beyond one’s odds to win a scratch ticket.
He shot 10.7 percent.
That’s absurd. That’s like the answer to those ridiculous scenarios fans dream up when they ask “I wonder how well I would shoot if I had to play in an NBA game?” The answer is “Slightly better than 10.7 percent.”
So Boston needs to coax him, BEG him to shoot. In other words, give him the ol’ Rondo Treatment—aka, the Tony Allen Approach (soon to be known as the Marcus Smart Plan). Use Rondo’s defenders to clog passing lanes, double Butler, or, if it comes down to it, throw a body at Lopez once Rondo puts the ball is in the air.
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