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J.J. Barea exposes Celtics pick-and-roll defense in Mavericks win

The 6’0 Maverick torched Boston in crunch time and finished with 20 points and 8 assists.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports

One of the growing trends with this disappointing 10-10 start for the Celtics has been their inability to contain point guards. They’ve been torched by the likes of Kemba Walker, Jamal Murray, and Devin Booker and last night in Dallas, it J.J. Barea’s turn. The 6’0 guard out of Northeastern didn’t put up 40-plus, but his 20 points and 8 rebounds would be the difference in what was otherwise a competitive game.

In particular, Barea was a surgeon dissecting the Celtics’ pick-and-roll defense. The 34-year-old guard doesn’t exactly have the size and speed to take defenders off the dribble, but the crafty veteran is an expert at taking advantage of the weakest of cracks and grooves presented to him. For some context, here’s some good (not great) PnR defense that illustrates Boston’s scheme:

The Celtics want to ICE most pick-and-rolls. That means containing the ball handler between the big and the sideline and forcing him to the baseline. If Boston is working on a string, it involves three players: the big back peddling with the penetration, the guard staying on his hip while simultaneously keeping his eye on the rolling big, and a weak side defender tagging the roll man and recovering on his man off the pass.

It’s not perfect D, but Marcus Smart does a good job keeping close to Barea, Al Horford keeps Barea in front of him until Smart can recover, and Terry Rozier tags Max Kleber in the paint. Barea still gets a decent look at the rim and misses.

After the game, Stevens remarked that, “we were a step slow all night. They put us on our heels.” Barea took advantage of that.

Barea notices that Rozier makes an exaggerated move to ice the PnR to his left, so he drives hard to the right. Jaylen Brown is forced to help and leaves Harrison Barnes wide open for a corner 3.

This isn’t a pick-and-roll, but this dribble hand off works as a similar action. Barea passes to Barnes and runs hard towards him for the DHO. Brown doesn’t cut off the driving angle quick enough (as the big in this situation) and Barea hits the wide open 10-footer.

Barea would own the end of the third quarter and the fourth. Same as above: Semi Ojeleye doesn’t cut off Barea as the down man on the defense and Barea has a clear path on the downhill drive.

Former CelticsBlogger Jared Weiss breaks down the subsequent play perfectly:

I disagree that Horford was running up to blitz the pick; the Celtics rarely do that, but he might be right because it is an end of clock situation. I think Horford over commits (maybe because Kleber could potentially pick-and-pop for a 3) and Barea has an easy lay up to beat the buzzer.

This is where Barea is so clever. He knows that the Celtics want to ice this pick. Jayson Tatum is smart by not committing to it by not turning his feet, but you can tell that he’s waiting for that Salah Mejri pick to come. In that split second of indecision, Barea drives passed Tatum and Aron Baynes can’t recover because he’s setting up to ice the pick that never happens.

This is just unfair. Smart is Boston’s best on-ball defender and again, is chewing Barea’s bubblegum on this PnR. Barea takes an off-balance, mid-range jumper that kisses off the glass for two. That’s a shot that Brad Stevens will live with, but of course, it goes in and extends the Mavericks’ lead to double digits in the closing moments of the game.

We’ve seen other teams cut up the Celtics running pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. The Utah Jazz have dominated both games, finding Rudy Gobert on lob dunks and hitting open shooters on the perimeter.

After the loss, Smart said, “that’s how it’s been all year for us — teams coming out of the gate, setting the tone. Guys feel comfortable, and in this league, it’s hard to stop guys when they get hot.” For Boston to figure out their PnR defense, the issue starts at the point of attack. Horford and Baynes aren’t exactly menacing rim protectors and the Celtics don’t want to give up open threes, so most of the pressure is going to be on the guards. We’ve highlighted two good defense examples by Smart, but that effort is going to have to extend to Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier, too.

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