The Boston Celtics’ last series against the Bulls did not go exactly as planned. Rajon Rondo highlighted a serious problem in their style of play: rebounding.
The Boston Celtics managed to walk out of their first round playoff series ultimately unscathed, winning four straight to close out the Chicago Bulls. With two losses to start this year’s playoffs, primarily at the hands of Rajon Rondo’s intuitive rebounding, questions started to rise about the prominence of the No. 1 seed.
The Celtics hustled, shot, bruised and fought their way to get there, but was it all for a second-round exit to a newly established force? Was the Bulls series a foreshadowing of an early 2017 plaoff exit? Are they still not good enough to beat LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers?
Article continues below ...
With the Bulls as the laughing stock of the playoffs, not only did two losses hurt the psychology of Boston, but with the heartbreaking and untimely loss of Chyna Thomas, Isaiah Thomas‘ sister, the Celtics were already shaken up in more ways than one. Playoff jitters mixed with a looming cloud over a locker room had a clear influence on the court.
Luckily, the slate has been wiped clean and they can start fresh against the Wizards. Unfortunately, with a new matchup comes a new set of doubts. Can Al Horford stop Marcin Gortat? Will the frontcourt be able to keep up with Markieff Morris? Who is Isaiah going to guard?! All legitimate doubts, now let’s address them.
The Anvil To Your Polish Hammer
It is going to be a war in the frontcourt between these two teams. Washington will bring two-way stretch-4, Markieff Morris, and traditional center, Marcin Gortat, as their starters, with Jason Smith as the reserve.
While the Wizards lack depth, Morris and Gortat are a powerful duo that should not be overlooked. Markieff has a reliable jump shot, while Gortat has an array of post moves that revolve around his size. Horford will not be able to sit back and hope Gortat misses his shots.
Horford is going to need to be cautious and stay out of foul trouble, while also finding a way to keep the pressure on Gortat whenever he gets the ball. Gortat cannot dominate a game on his own, but his ability to capitalize on second chance points and easy, around-the-rim opportunities make him a player that needs to be shut down before he can get going.
For the Celtics offensively, they will also need to target Gortat. As one of those few traditional centers left in the league who thrives in the low-post on both sides of the ball, he is consistently looking to be force on the glass, meaning he struggles outside the paint and lacks the speed and versatility to guard Al Horford on the perimeter.
Horford is going to be able to space the floor, leaving the paint open for players like Jae Crowder to finish at the rim with ease. When the Celtics can get to the rim, they have no trouble scoring. When they get to the rim and a center is waiting for them, that is when problems start to occur. Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas may excel in finishing around the rim, but Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, and reserve Terry Rozier do not.
They will need the space to get to their spots in the lane. While Horford can still do damage without scoring the basketball, he is going to need to focus on taking his man out of the play, allowing his teammates to do most of the scoring. Not only will Al Horford need to be on top of his game, but the rest of the Celtics frontcourt as well.
The Markieff Morris Situation
Markieff Morris is a stretch-4 that fits perfectly in with the Wizards’ style of play. He can run with smaller teams or he can hunker down on defense, holding his own against bigger forwards. Either way, Morris is going to be all over this series and the Celtics will need an answer.
Kelly Olynyk might not be the solution, but he sure can help. Jonas Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk need to be efficient with their scoring opportunities and smart on defense. Morris is going to score. That much is guaranteed. What matters is how much the Celtics can limit his production and keep him off the free throw line, allowing the game to fall into the hands of the backcourt. Primarily Bradley Beal.
The Celtics’ big men struggle to rebound and defend stronger, more powerful forwards that like to utilize their size. The Boston frontcourt reserves can keep a hand in their opponents face, but are easily boxed out. While the defensive prowess is appreciated, they need someone that will be able to rebound after they force bad shots. T
his is where Olynyk and Jerebko come in. They are two of the taller Celtics when on the floor, meaning they are going to be responsible for rebounds and stopping second chance points. This means keeping Markieff Morris from scoring 15 points on put backs alone.
The Boston frontcourt outside of Al Horford can produce. If they can combine for 13-16 points a night, the better chance the Celtics have of walking out of this series victorious. While defense may not win championships in the NBA, you will not win without playing strong defense every night. Now…who is Isaiah Thomas going to guard?
Wall. No, Beal. Wait. Porter?
There are two options you can go with here, and neither are really promising for the Celtics.
Option one: Stick Isaiah on John Wall and go speed against speed. Thomas’ quick hands will cause trouble for Wall dribbling, although Wall will still blow by due to the size advantage.
A solution to this would just have the paint packed whenever Wall is driving. If he beats Thomas, fine. Just do not let him finish around the rim as easily as he has been. You have a chance of beating the Wizards even if Wall has 12 assists. You will not beat the Wizards if Wall has 42 points and 12 assists. Pick your poison. Either allow Wall to score the Wizards points or let his teammates.
Option two: Stick Thomas on Otto Porter and hope the hands will throw off Porter’s rhythm. Porter is nearly a foot taller than Thomas, meaning the height advantage should deter this as a mere, last-chance option. Only in a sense.
The Celtics being the overly-athletic team that they are means they can switch without a hitch. They communicate well and putting Thomas on Porter, especially on the perimeter can be the matchup that makes or breaks this series. Any hand in Porter’s face can be the difference in him shooting 4-for-7 from deep on a night that sends the Celtics home, or a 1-for-5 night that has the Celtics advancing to the conference finals. Thomas on Porter looks bad on paper, but this game is not played on paper.
Thomas is going to be a liability on defense. Either you find a way to go perfect from the field, or you use a defensive scheme to make up for that liability. The best way to go is hope that Otto Porter struggles to shoot under pressure, and a hand from Thomas can shake up his focus.
The plan is not fool-proof, but you have a better chance of winning letting Otto Porter try and beat you, rather than giving John Wall, Bradley Beal or Bojan Bogdanovic the opportunity to shoot themselves into history.