Throughout the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat were having their way with the Boston Celtics defense. A primary part of Boston’s struggles was their inability to contain Miami’s straight-line drives, especially when they came off of high pick-and-roll actions.
Fortunately, Joe Mazzulla implemented an adjustment that helped limit Miami’s effectiveness when attacking the middle of screening actions while also limiting the effectiveness of Bam Adebayo around the elbows. That adjustment was to position a defender around the nail (middle of the free-throw line) during half-court actions.
Primarily, that nail defender was a big man playing in drop, but there were times when Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum would undertake the role, utilizing their length and athleticism to close out, stunt, or blitz when needed.
You can watch the breakdown in the video below.
Granted, keeping a player so far back from the perimeter when Miami has been flamethrowing from deep was a bold strategy. However, just like Boston, the Heat like to generate their perimeter offense via kick-outs or hand-offs, so by limiting the viability of both actions, the Heat’s perimeter offense stuttered and suffered as a result.
Hopefully, the Celtics will be able to make a similar impact with their nail defense in Game 5. If the Celtics can continue to disrupt Miami’s core offense while also executing their own offense at a high level, there should be no reason why they can’t pull things back to 3-2 before heading to the Kaseya Center with the hopes of evening the series up.