Hot shooting comes and goes, but one constant throughout the Toronto Raptors series has been Boston’s suffocating defensive rotations.
With many elite wing defenders, Brad Stevens can play with his matchups on a given night. He can take First Team All-Defense selection Marcus Smart and deploy him like a Swiss Army knife, bouncing around one matchup to another. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, high-IQ youngsters with great physical frames and savvy one-on-one chops, provide even more versatility.
And then there’s Kemba Walker, the undersized point guard who doesn’t fit in a natural switching scheme. Walker isn’t cut out for banging in the post or wrestling for position in a size mismatch. His physical stature isn’t the same as Smart or other bowling ball point guards. But for what it’s worth, he’s third in the bubble on drawn charges.
Somehow, Stevens has managed to preserve their switching scheme for ultra versatility and neutralizing the point of attack while simultaneously protecting Kemba from being picked on.
The Celtics have become masters of the scram switch, an off-ball concept that excuses Kemba from a post mismatch by having a weak-side defender slide in on the flight of the ball and take on the matchup. They’ve done this for years, but have sharpened their rotations so cleanly that few loopholes emerge.
What’s more nuanced is their desire to switch on the weak side to keep Kemba above the block and away from guarding the opposite corner. It’s a move designed to not just blanket him from mismatches but bring longer, more athletic defenders into rebounding and shot blocking territory.
Some of these concepts can fall by the wayside in live action, with so many movements and eyes trained on the ball. But the way the Celtics move on the weak side enables them to be in perfect position against any mismatch the Raptors tried to create.
It’s not that Stevens and the Celtics are revolutionary with their schemes and trailblazing new concepts. But they’re creative with how they use different tactics and nearly flawless in their execution. That’s the real value of coaching: making the complex seem mundane and successful every time down the floor.