I posed the following question to the staff for our latest roundtable.
Bam Adebayo has been a Celtics killer in the past; what can Boston do to limit his effectiveness?
Hire Doc Rivers as a consultant to complain to the league of Bam’s illegal screens? Dust off old friend Grant Williams for a game or 2? Or even crazier, dust off old old friend Blake Griffin to draw a couple of charges? In all seriousness, Bam is a real problem and has gone to work against the C’s big men in the past. On paper, Horford and Rob should be able to minimize his scoring output, but Bam’s true effectiveness lies as a screener and playmaker, especially off of the elbow actions the Heat love to run. Elbow actions are a real pain to deal with when you have someone’s of Bam’s talent serving as the hub. He makes great reads, sets solid screens, and can create his own shot if the defense overreacts to whoever is flying off of that screen. If the Heat don’t overuse these actions so the C’s can lock in on tendencies, this will be a staple of the Heat’s offense whenever they need a bucket. (edited)
I hate to double down on Greg’s point, but I truly believe whether or not the illegal screens are called (or what the leeway in terms of screen setting will be) is a pivotal factor in Bam’s success. They get such an advantage in the pick and roll, and much of that is because of how much space they create on Bam’s screens. That being said, Al will probably spend the majority of the time on him, and I could imagine Grant Williams getting some run as well. Rob might struggle guarding Bam in pick and roll actions, so that’s something to keep an eye on. I’m worried about Bam, but I’m also worried about Strus and Vincent and Robinson. I’m scared about everyone.
As others have mentioned, Adebayo’s skill as an (illegal) screener is his most dangerous asset. It weaponizes him as a lob threat, short roller, and mid-range shooter and passer. Consequently, I’d like to see the Celtics go away from playing so much drop coverage and lean into their ability to switch and be versatile across positions. The Heat are at their best when they are a whirling vortex of off-ball movement and 3-point shooting. Switch most actions and Adebayo ball screens and force Adebayo and Butler to mismatch hunt and play more isolation ball than they would like, and I think it plays to the Celtics advantage.
Make him into a scorer. Yes, this is a bit of playing with fire and for sure has some backfire potential but it isn’t how he or the Heat want to play. Much like Spo will do all he can to make the Celtics uncomfortable this is a version of that for the Celtics. Point Bam is a matchup nightmare for most teams and can cause all sorts of problems. However, baiting him into becoming a scorer vs facilitator makes Miami have to alter their game plan and I don’t think they have as much versatility as the Celtics do to adapt on the fly. The higher Bam’s FGAs the more I like the Celtics chances.
I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world for the Celtics if Adebayo has something like a 26-5-2 game. If he has, say, an 18-14-8 game, that’s likely going to be more problematic. He’s at his best when he plays like Draymond Green with a jumper. Anything’s better than letting Jimmy Butler get hot, and that includes making Adebayo a scorer. Limiting catches near the free-throw line is key, as is timing their doubles well but not over-helping. Adebayo is a great player, but after facing Joel Embiid in the last round, this won’t seem quite as daunting.
I honestly think the best thing that Boston can do is challenge Bam as a shooter, and try to neutralize their pick n’ roll actions with him. What ultimately made a difference in Boston’s defense against Philly was dismantling the pick n’ roll game between Harden and Embiid; Miami poses a similar problem. Adebayo is a frequent (moving) screener, so Boston needs to be prepared to handle that, whether calls are going their way or not. Force Bam to make his jumpers, it’s certainly better than the alternative of him getting to the basket or the defense collapsing on the drive and him finding an open shooter on the wing because of it. Having Robert Williams in this series will help, especially if Boston goes back to using him as a roamer
I’ve watched every single game the Heat have played this playoffs, mostly cause I just figured the Celtics would see them again at this point and I can confidently say this is the best Bam Adebayo they have come up against. The stats might not be there, but his impact these playoffs have been obscene and I think a lot of it has to do with momentum and energy. Bam is their catalyst on both ends, he’s the engine that truly makes the Jimmy Butler car go. I think it all starts on the offensive boards with second chance opportunities. Letting him feed Miami’s shooter with extra shots and getting those free tip-ins or follow up dunks he loves so much killed the Bucks and the Knicks. When he starts getting those OREBs, his energy spikes and all of a sudden the Bam defensive tornado starts to spin and suck up everything in his area. Control him on the boards, force him to fight for every rebound and try to exhaust him on the boards. Celtics, maybe for the first time against Miami, have an extra size advantage almost everywhere. Use it!
A lot of what Boston did against Joel Embiid in the latter part of the second round should help against Bam. Having consistent nail help, digging from the wings, and fluid ball pressure (sometimes drop, other times up to touch) will give the Celtics a chance at containing Adebayo. It’s worth remembering that Bam is a multi-skilled big with ball handling skills and a reliable jumper, though. So containing him on offense will be the best you can ask for. With Bam on defense, the Celtics will need to be fearless in attacking him, and look to draw him away from the paint whenever possible
The advantage of having a player like Bam Adebayo is that his versatility makes him virtually impossible to truly scheme out of a game. He can simply do too much on both ends of the court to ever fully be made irrelevant. The goal, though, should be to limit his opportunities out of the pick-and-roll and in the paint – he’s too skilled of a scorer and distributor to be allowed to operate freely down low. If there’s a weakness to his game, it’s that he’s essentially a nonfactor as a scorer from further than 15 feet. Pushing him back to those distances will be crucial – Al Horford and Robert Williams III will have their hands full.