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The Celtics will have to flip the switch on switches

The playoffs are all about adjustments. In Game 3, the Bucks started switching on defense and limited the Celtics to only 92 points.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Three Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments. A seven-game series is a chess match and after two losses in Boston, the Bucks made the first one:

For most of the season, Milwaukee has had a middling NBA defense on the backs--really, on the arms and legs--of their length. They were second in the league in points of turnovers (18.3 ppg) and could keep teams at bay on their reach alone. On Friday night, they flipped a switch...literally.

Instead of playing a more traditional D, the Bucks switched on screens and off ball action and the Celtics admittedly panicked. Brad Stevens said:

“We were on our heels the whole time and they did a good job of creating that,” Stevens said of the Bucks defensive impact on the Celtics. “I thought when [Matthew] Dellavedova and [Thon] Maker came in, their energy was contagious and really pushed us out and I thought we were settling already prior to that. Our guys are competitive. They want to get it all back at once.

“And we’re driving to the rim and we’re getting shot after shot blocked because we’re trying to hit home runs by then. I’d say it all snowballed on us.”

The optimist could say that the Celtics got what they wanted: looks in the restricted area and three pointers. Shots just weren’t falling. Here’s the shot chart from Game 3:

It’s become a common theme in this series, but what killed them at the Bradley Center Friday night were turnovers (18 for 20 points) and blocked shots (a whopping 13, 5 by Thon Maker). The Bucks are not your typical switching team.

One of Boston’s biggest issues in Game 3 was that when they did force a switch in their favor, they didn’t take advantage. Stevens criticized his team for trying to hit home runs. This should have been a drive and kick by Rozier. Instead, he settles for a contested step back 3.

Here’s Jayson Tatum ISOing against Giannis Antetokounmpo. With plenty of time on the shot clock, Tatum pulls up for another three pointer. With plenty of time on the shot clock, the ball could have been rotated to Horford in the post against Matthew Dellavedova.

In addition to replacing the injured John Henson with Tyler Zeller, Bucks head coach Joe Prunty inserted Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. The reigning Rookie of the Year is two inches shorter than Tony Snell, but he’s stronger and tougher defending the post ups and drives. In Boston, Jaylen Brown could get a step, turn the corner, and power passed Snell. Brogdon takes a dive on this play, but he’s hardly a push over.

The Celtics have found success against switching defenses. They dropped 114 points on the Sixers (3rd in the league in defense, regular season 102.0 DefRtg), 108 on the Spurs (4th, 102.4 DefRtg), 110 on the Raptors (5th, 103.4 Def Rtg), and 120 on the Rockets (6th, 103.8 DefRtg). Those games featured a healthy Kyrie Irving, but even without him, the Celtics read-and-react offense should be able to adjust.

Boston did capitalize in some areas. With Milwaukee going small and switchy, Stevens opted for bigger front courts, including pairing Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe for nearly eleven minutes to be aggressive on the glass. They combined for 10 offensive boards (team total of 17) to the tune of 18 second chance points. The Celtics went to the line 28 times; in their offensive explosion in Game 2, they only had eighteen free throws.

After Game 3’s success, the Bucks will most likely try and muck it up again on Sunday, but the Celtics will be ready. Don’t be surprised if Marcus Morris starts for Aron Baynes. Greg Monroe could play more minutes to bully his former team’s smaller lineups. One thing is for certain: after their first taste of the playoffs in enemy territory, the Celtics will be ready. Here’s Jaylen on the team’s Game 4 mind set:

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