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The Read & React: LeBron James and pressure points

On Paul Pierce Day, the current Celtics showed why they could use another #34 on both sides of the ball against LeBron James.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Bill Sy: Basketball—particularly NBA basketball—is about pressure points. Some teams have big men that control the paint. Others have sharp shooters spreading the floor and stretching the defense. The Cavaliers have LeBron James. For how long, we don’t know, but for now, he’s in Cleveland and he’s always going to put pressure on the Celtics.

So much of yesterday’s debacle was just plain carelessness.

My guess is, Greg Monroe has been briefed with Boston’s pick-and-roll philosophy and coverage, but he doesn’t even contain the drive in that halfhearted attempt to wrap up LeBron.

Here’s, the Cavaliers run some 4-2 PnR with J.R. Smith popping open for a 3. I get Morris’ instinct to jump back onto LeBron, but he’s gotta trust Terry Rozier here and Horford and Ojeleye’s help on the back side. It gets worse.

These Jordan Clarkson threes strike fear in the hearts of very NBA team, not just the Celtics.

You’ve got LeBron as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll going downhill to his strong side, a pogo stick in Larry Nance Jr. on the dive, and Jordan Clarkson, a 37.1% spot up shooter, behind the arc looking for a kick out pass. You have to give up something.

Right before that second dagger three goes in, you can hear Aron Baynes calling out to ice the pick. Semi Ojeleye doesn’t recognize it soon enough and gets obliterated by the Nance screen. Brad Stevens immediately calls a timeout and gets in Ojeleye’s face.

LeBron is going to put you in tough defensive decisions, but you have to give yourself a chance. If Ojeleye gets around that screen and recovers back to James, Baynes doesn’t give Nance a free lane, and Brown doesn’t sink so far in to help and leave enough air space for Clarkson to get a good look. It’s split second stuff like that where the Celtics will have to be better to beat Cleveland.

Even when the Celtics were good, the Cavs were better. Here are two PnR’s with Tristan Thompson now. In the first clip to start the game, Marcus Morris recovers over the screen well, but LeBron fits a pocket pass to Thompson. Horford also recovers well enough for a good contest, but Thompson hits the tough floater.

In that second clip, Morris and Daniel Theis do a good job containing the driving James and Horford guesses right and helps on Thompson, but the Cavs have run that James-Thompson PnR a thousand times and LeBron hits Thompson for an alley-oop.

Sometimes, LeBron can be the big in a PnR. With George Hill running high pick-and-roll, he tries to get a running start on the retreating Morris, but instead kicks out to a popping LeBron for a twenty footer. With LeBron James, you have to pick your poison. That’s a shot the Celtics will live and die with. On Sunday, it was the latter, time and time again.

Alex Kungu: Well, that sucked.

The new-look Cavaliers are athletic, long, and play with an energy that we haven’t seen from them all year. They flustered Boston with high-energy defense and ruined any chance of the C’s getting into much of a flow.

I want to make it clear that this is just as much the Cavaliers doing than anything else. But let’s talk about the anything else. Boston was able to generate a lot of great looks, they had the upper hands on the boards, and despite having an amazing second quarter, James shot 45% from the field and was 57% from the FT line.

The Celtics are 7th in 3P% at 37% and shot 26.3 last night, Tatum and Brown combined for 6/20 and the team had no idea what they were doing with Monroe/Baynes/Theis after deciding to start the game small, none of them played at least 15 minutes and the spacing when any combination shared the court was horrible.

Boston has a lot to work through internally in terms of finding a solid 10-man rotation that they can rely on for a consistent output night in and night out. This was the Celtics 4th game in 6 nights and it’s possible that it had an effect on their ability to connect from long-range along with the Cavaliers intensity. Last nights results felt like a team that let a bad shooting performance dictate how they played defense and they got absolutely roasted by it. Maybe it’s a learning experience that they won’t repeat when the games really matter or maybe this is foreshadowing the teams playoff fortunes, that’s unclear. But as of today, this team is clearly not one of the top two teams in the East.

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