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Boston’s defense bends but doesn’t break against Mavericks

Multiple Celtics were at fault for missed rotations and poor positioning during the game.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A tough game against a well drilled Mavericks team ended in a Celtics win last night. While both teams were without key players, it was Boston who adjusted best. And then they adjusted again and again, as the Mavs continually switched their defensive focus to stifle Boston’s multitude of threats.

Dallas’ league best offense had a clear cut game plan. They moved the ball with short crisp passes and attacked the holes caused by Boston’s switching as soon as they appeared. They also read the scouting report, as they feasted from solid drives deep into the paint.

Boston’s defense is predicated on high paced switching and ferocious close outs, but it falls short at stopping the more athletic players driving into the paint, something which the Mavs took advantage of on numerous occasions.

Plays like this came too often and too easy for Kristaps Porzingis. He caused havoc when driving into the paint.

It wasn’t just Porzingis who was finding success attacking the lane either. Check out how Seth Curry takes advantage of the space in the middle, driving with purpose after selling his pump fake on Jaylen Brown. These types of plays have hurt the Celtics regularly over the early part of the season.

Multiple players were at fault for missed rotations and poor positioning during the game, too. Brown had several plays where he allowed passes to reach his man at the corner three position.

Here, Brown is guarding his man in the corner, but is sinking in on the elbow to protect from the drive threat of Dorian Finney-Smith. When Finney-Smith receives the pass from Porzingis, Brown stunts to kill any chance of a straight drive to the basket. This stunt should be fleeting, allowing Brown to recover to his man within seconds. Instead, Finney-Smith feeds Tim Hardaway Jr. on the corner, giving him an open look at the basket.

This play was both Kanter’s and Brown’s fault. Brown should have rotated to get in front of Hardaway Jr. as soon as his stunt on Finney-Smith had its desired effect. Kanter basically jogged to him, allowing Hardaway Jr. plenty of room to get his shot off.

This time, Grant Williams is at fault. Williams fights off of a screen from Porzingis to guard Seth Curry. As Curry threatens to attack the corner, Kemba steps forward to block the lane. Kemba is expecting Williams to switch onto Hardaway Jr. and complete the rotation. Williams misreads the situation which allows Hardaway Jr. to cut to the top of the three unguarded. Curry hits his man with a solid pass, but luckily, the drive and floater do not result in a basket.

These missed rotations affected the Celtics throughout the whole game, which in turn added pressure during offensive possessions.

On offense, the Celtic’s were using the “next man up” strategy. And it started with Kemba Walker. He finished the first quarter with 16 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists, getting his work done early by taking advantage of the Mavs’ poor pick-and-roll coverage.

In both of these plays, Kemba utilizes the screen set by Enes Kanter. He makes use of the room the defense provides him due to their drop coverage and the on-ball defender coming over the screen in rear view pursuit. Kemba should never be provided that sort of space on the perimeter and takes full advantage, scoring 11 consecutive points in the process.

Entering the second quarter Dallas made some changes to how they were covering the pick-and-roll, which forced the ball out of Kemba’s hands.

Jaylen Brown then stepped up. Using his speed to drive deep into the paint and either finishing or getting fouled, he ended the quarter with 10 points, 2 rebounds and a solid 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.

This quarter is filled with plays like this from Brown. He was attacking the paint at will and forcing the defense into mistakes or fouls. His ability to switch gears is really becoming a primary weapon for him this year.

Jayson Tatum had a quiet first quarter and continued that slow start in the second, totaling just 7 points for the quarter on 8 attempts.

The third quarter was Tatum’s turn to add to his box score. He went for 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field. Six of those points came at the rim, as Tatum began to use his length to get some success down low.

Here is a great example of Tatum using his length. He gets the ball from Daniel Theis at the top, drive inside and goes left. Porzingis is manning the middle and was dominantly protecting the rim, finishing the game with 3 blocks. So Tatum beats him off the dribble, contorts his body, and extends his long arms to get right to the basket.

With no signs of their defensive woes easing up in the fourth, Kemba climbed off the bench to give the Celtics another boost. He dropped 13 points in 6:44 to help the Celtics finish the game off and claim the victory. He was joined in his efforts by Jaylen Brown, who was also fighting to secure the win following his poor defensive game. Brown added 8 points in the fourth as the Celtics finished the game 109-103.

This win should have been much more comfortable. The nervous finish was all self inflicted. They will need to improve on that end of the floor if they wish to embark on another win streak like they did earlier this season.

With Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, and Robert Williams all missing from the rotation, they can be forgiven for some of the defensive mishaps, but not all of them. It’s time for them to get in the film room and be ready for Detroit tomorrow.