With a commanding 2-0 series lead, the path is paved for a return to the NBA Finals in Beantown. Despite years of strong teams under Brad Stevens, the Celtics have never felt closer to triumph over the Eastern Conference than in the bubble.
The two main obstacles on their path remain some of the premiere defensive franchises. The defending champion Toronto Raptors, despite their two-game deficit, are a capable group with strong guard play and incredibly strong coaching. The NBA’s top team during the regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks, are still the team to beat, with reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo blanketed by veteran role players.
One thing both teams have in common is their reliance on drop coverage when going against ball screens. The Raptors and Bucks will have their bigs, like Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol, drop back inside the paint when their man sets a screen. They’re daring others to beat them with jumpers.
More times than not, its a winning proposition. Both teams rank in the top ten defensively against ball screens; the Bucks the league’s top unit, and Toronto stifling any rolls or pops.
Enter Kemba Walker.
Despite this being his first year in town and the deepest he’s ever advanced into the playoffs, he is the veteran on this team. The ball is in his hands most frequently in ball screens for good reason. He’s elite at manipulating defenses.
Kemba will have to continue to knock down the open shots his opponents dare him to. But he also cannot settle for jumpers every time. He has to be fearless and confident enough in his finishing to go right at those bigs.
How does Kemba combat drop coverage and get himself open at the rim? That’s the subject of this episode of The Film Room:
Few players are quicker than Walker, but he’s not overly-reliant on his speed. He sells every move with the hesitation, a strong in-and-out dribble and the perfect last step to seal off his defender. That mastery of angles is more important than any burst he shows, and is why he’s going to continue to be a mainstay in the Celtics’ lineup far into his thirties.
Kemba’s seasoned approach to ball screen scoring can steady the C’s late in games, as it did in their comeback victory in Game 2. If their opponents continue to roll with their identity and don’t switch up their screen coverage too drastically, we could see Kemba play a huge role in bringing an Eastern Conference crown back to Boston.