In Tuesday night’s win over the Washington Wizards, the Celtics were able to control the game for most of the night, stemming from great defense that shut down most offensive options for the Wizards. It showed what the Celtics defense was capable of doing, especially considering a perimeter offense that included Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.
The Celtics now enter the playoffs with a tall task in front of them in the Brooklyn Nets. This new beast is Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. Plus, if the team falls asleep and over rotates on them, Joe Harris is ready to knock down a three as he is shooting 47.5% from behind the arc this season. They’ll need everything they have to defend this team well.
Tuesday night was a good first indicator of who Brad Stevens will be trusting for these playoffs. He had a set rotation of about eight guys and no one else really saw the court outside of garbage time at the end of the game. Young players such as Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith were among those eight who got quality minutes. This will be their first real playoff experience at this level which shows the inexperience the Celtics will be dealing with. With Jaylen Brown out, it will be imperative that these guys can step up and carry the burden.
The most important thing to watch in this upcoming series is how Stevens rotates in his wing depth to match the Brooklyn fire power. The Brooklyn Nets score most of their points around the perimeter. Either shots around the arc or slashing cutters with good ball movement, it all starts with a score-first All-Star touching the ball. This will cause fits for the Celtics depending on how they look to defend against it. The team will be relying on Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart to defend at an elite level in the front court against Irving and Harden. Then, Jayson Tatum will be falling back to defend Kevin Durant. It will never be a dull possession on defense this whole entire series.
The true turning point may not even be about those three head-to-heads. It may be about the other wings that enter the game having to defend the Nets best players. This happened occasionally with Aaron Nesmith guarding Russell Westbrook or Bradley Beal after switches against the Wizards. Nesmith stood his ground and had Westbrook settle for jump shots. This game plan of switching opened up opportunities for multiple wings to defend against top talent. They were able to close out on shooters around the arc in a much more fluid motion.
There were, of course, multiple times where you could hear Mad Brad screaming “Aaron!” or “Romeo!” after a late rotation. This comes with the territory with young players finding their rhythm. One moment they can be making the perfect rotation over and the next moment will be a brain lapse and a three by the other team. This composure and defending will need to be laser sharp against the Brooklyn Nets.
Another matchup to watch is how Stevens staggers minutes with their best three and his best three. Normally in playoff situations, whenever one player sits for rest, the other player who was guarding him also sits until he checks back in. It will be interesting how Stevens matches minute for minute with say Tatum and Durant or Smart and Harden. There are just not enough experienced defenders to have anyone on the roster defending these All-Stars.
This next series for the Celtics will be a fun watch. They are playing with house money at this point and could challenge the Nets for a few games. If anything else, it will be great experience for the roster to get playoff minutes against a top level team. The Nets offense comes from their top three players, and the Celtics will need to combat them with stellar defense around the perimeter.