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Can the Boston Celtics survive switching on LeBron’s pick and rolls?

It's going to be tough defending LeBron James, hopefully some effective switching can lead to success.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James is a matchup nightmare. There isn't any perfect option to defend him without a freakish defender like Kawhi Leonard. It is especially hard to defend LeBron when he runs the pick and roll. The Boston Celtics' pick and roll strategy has been a topic of discussion recently, and will be important against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, the Celtics have switched frequently on LeBron in these situations. James is the focal point of the offense, so it's imperative to limit him however you can. Switching makes it easier to stay in front of him, hopefully preventing a drive. LeBron is a devastating finisher inside, and he shoots 55% on drives. So no matter how he gets there, LeBron is terrifying once he reaches the restricted area. Forcing him to shoot jumpers is one way to hopefully slow him down. If they can switch cleanly, then it might pressure James to play more isolation basketball.

Ideally, the switch will occur between strong perimeter defenders like Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder. The Celtics can rely on Smart's tenacity and Crowder's ability to defend almost any position. But the time will definitely come where this transition isn't so easy.

Boston's big men will be called upon to take up this challenge. Brandon Bass has matched up with LeBron before, with varying levels of success. He's undersized for a power forward, but he's a long defender and pretty quick on defense. Bass did a solid job defending Carmelo Anthony two years ago too, so he has plenty of experience defending top scorers in the playoffs.

Bass switch

On this play, Bass is all alone after switching onto James. But, he's disciplined enough to take away the drive. James settles for a unsuccessful mid-range shot, which is a great scenario for the defense.

Another player expected to see some time switched onto LeBron is Jonas Jerebko. Jerebko has solid quickness for a man his size. He hasn't directly guarded James much this season, so there isn't a huge sample to judge him on. I think he can handle the job for limited stretches though. He has good length, which helps him contest shots. Jerebko has found himself matched up with James on a few occasions. On this play he's actually able to block LeBron's layup attempt.

jonas switch 1

Even though James gets to the rim, Jerebko stays in front of him. This gives Jerebko the chance to challenge the shot.

This is another example from a month ago where Jerebko is forced to cover James after the pick.

jonas switch 2

LeBron charges to the basket, but Jerebko stays pretty close to him. Even though he's able to create space by fading away, Jerebko still has his hand up to contest the shot. This isn't a perfect example of switching a pick and roll, because Jerebko and Crowder didn't really have a choice. But it does show that Jerebko is capable of at least staying in font of LeBron. These plays might not seem impressive, but it can go much worse trying to defend LeBron.

Sometimes it isn't possible to get a clean switch on him. On this play, Kelly Olynyk is forced to cover LeBron after Crowder gets picked. This is an awful matchup for Boston, and it shows.


LeBron has a running start and steamrolls Olynyk on the way to a three point play. Olynyk doesn't have the quickness needed the switch on LeBron, so he plays really deep to contain the drive. He's left in an awkward position because he can't set his feet for a charge or effectively contest the shot.

Boston has a cadre of versatile defenders they can throw at LeBron James. The freedom to switch on defense could make a difference in how effective LeBron can be. If the Celtics can survive the possessions with a big covering him, it'll be a huge help. They're going to have their hands full regardless, considering the threats of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love too. Against such a tough matchup, everyone is going to have to pitch in on defense if the Celtics are going to have any success in this series.

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