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Boston’s drop coverage drops them a game

After a couple of great defensive performances in games one and two, it looked as though the Celtics defense had returned to its 2022 playoffs form. But, then game three happened.

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If there’s one key to defending the Atlanta Hawks, it’s limiting them as much as possible in the pick and roll. Atlanta ran the most pick and rolls of any team during the regular season, and that number has only increased since the playoffs have started. It’s their go-to offensive action. By far.

The Celtics have played a relatively consistent scheme against the high pick and roll throughout the first three games of the series – the infamous drop coverage. There have just been vastly different levels of engagement, physicality, and intensity, which have resulted in vastly different levels of success between the games in Boston and Atlanta.

In the first two games of the series, the Celtics didn’t have trouble slowing down the Hawks primary offensive action. The point of attack defender was physical with Trae/Dejounte, the player defending the roll man was engaged and stunting at the ball handler, and then the guard defender fought over the screen and trailed the play while looking for back taps or blocks.

Here, Derrick White stays connected to Trae Young as he uses the screen to go baseline. Horford also allows for White to get back into the play by staying square and stunting at Trae until White returns. They’re on the same page, and it results in a block at the rim for the best shot blocking guard in the league.

This might not be fundamental pick and roll defense, but it’s classic Smart. He spins away from the screen and contests Trae’s three well. This play illustrates the intensity that the point of attack defenders were playing with in the Boston home games.

The Celtics also iced some pick and rolls early in game one, and it looked like a pretty solid defensive scheme. Here, Murray can’t use the screen and is forced baseline, which only leaves him with a pocket pass to Clint, who’s in no-man’s land. Capela makes a lucky bank shot. Oh well.

In game three, the Celtics went away from icing the screen and guarded the pick and roll with almost exclusively traditional drop coverage. It didn’t go well, to say the least.

I don’t have TOO much of a problem here with Jaylen, although I do think he could fight a bit harder to get back in the play. Regardless, this would be decent point of attack defense if Rob Williams even remotely stunted at Murray, which would’ve allowed Brown to contest from behind. Just lazy from Rob.

Again, this is just bad from Rob. Brogdon should fight harder to get back in front of Murray, but he would have an easier time doing so if Williams offered ANY resistance. Instead, Dejounte just meanders around the lane until he finds an angle to the hoop. WAY too easy.

Where is Al dropping to? Okongwu is trailing the play, so Horford doesn’t need to protect the charge circle – he needs to be applying more pressure to Young, which would allow White to get back into the play more effectively. Lack of focus seems to be the crux of what goes wrong here.

Atlanta won’t be making any major adjustments going into game four. They’re still going to rely heavily on the spread pick and roll and their guards’ abilities to attack the paint and hit floaters/jumpers.

And, to be honest, I don’t even think the Celtics should change their scheme much, if at all. They have the defenders and connectivity required to completely bottle up the Hawks – they literally did it for two straight games to start the series. All it’ll take is a reinforced emphasis on physicality, intensity, and engagement, and I think Mazzulla will push exactly those buttons.

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