It’s no secret that the Celtics’ offense struggles down the stretch of games. In fact, you’re probably tired of hearing about (and witnessing) their end of game woes by now. Despite having the best offensive rating in the 2022-2023 playoffs, Boston’s offensive rating falls to the 4th highest in the final quarter, and their turnover percentage drops to the 5th worst of all playoff teams in the final frame.
I probably didn’t have to find those stats for you though, because it’s easy to see with your own eyes. While the C’s run fast, forceful, and purposeful offense in the first three quarters, they tend to stall out towards the end of games. It leads to turnovers, bad shots, and even no shot in some scenarios (we saw this with Malcolm Brogdon’s throw away in Game 1 and the final play in Game 4).
The clutch-time deficiencies are starting to look more like a pattern than a fluke at this point, which means it’s probably time for Joe Mazzulla to throw some wrinkles into the offense.
Time for a change?
Jaylen Brown has been better than Jayson Tatum in these playoffs. Plain and simple. No caveats, no excuses – he’s just been better. Jaylen’s averaging 25.5 points on 55% shooting from the field and 47% shooting from three. He’s basically shooting it into the ocean at this point. Tatum, on the other hand, has struggled to find a groove. Yes, he’s averaging 26 points a game, but he’s doing it on 46% shooting and 34% from deep.
However, when it comes down to late game offense, Brown often finds himself hanging out off the ball and spotting up in the corners. That’s because no matter how he’s played for the first 36 minutes of the game, it is just assumed that Jayson Tatum should be the go-to guy in the final quarter.
While Brown ranks second in usage rate for the Celtics during the playoffs, he ranks fourth in fourth quarter usage rate. In this series against the Sixers, Brown ranks sixth in fourth quarter usage rate.
Now, it should be noted that I fully understand why Tatum has traditionally been the go-to guy. Quite frankly, I normally trust Tatum with the ball in his hands a bit more than Brown; Jayson is a better passer, and he tends to play at a slower speed, which results in fewer turnovers and more controlled play. Jaylen can often be caught dribbling into crowds and moving too fast for his own good.
But, believe it or not, Brown’s “out-of-control” moves to the hoop are pretty darn effective. His incredible athleticism and body control allow him to make up for his (sometimes) lazy handle, and that has especially been the case in these playoffs and against James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris (three defenders who cannot stay in front of Jaylen for the life of them).
So, maybe it’s time for something to change. Jaylen is having too special of a playoffs to completely fade out of the game in the final minutes. Whether it be isolations, two-man screening actions with him and Tatum, or backdoor cuts with him and Smart, Jaylen Brown needs to be involved far more in the fourth quarter offense.
I’m not saying Tatum should now be the one to sit in the corner while Brown runs the offense. What I’m saying is that it’s far more difficult to guard a team with two primary offensive playmakers instead of one – that’s why we’re so tough to guard for the first three quarters of the game.
"I guess I got to demand the ball a little bit more."— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 7, 2023
Jaylen Brown on only taking 3 shots in the 4th quarter pic.twitter.com/IQPXsdoMzj
It seems like the go-to play at the end of the game is a Tatum pick-and-roll with Smart, with Smart getting the short roll pass and playing four on three. Why can’t Jaylen run some of those, either as the screener or the ball handler? Get creative, Joe. Find a way to involve your team’s best playoff performer. Run some different Jaylen-centric actions, or just start to trust Jaylen in that primary role a bit more. Do something different. Anything.
If you were an alien who came down to earth for the NBA Playoffs, you would be confused by the Celtics’ end of game offense. Why do they look so good for three quarters and then so bad for the fourth? And why does arguably the team’s best player get demoted to a PJ Tucker role at the end of games?
Sometimes, when things happen for so long, we just begin to take them for granted. Of course Jayson Tatum should be the primary guy at the end of games, right? Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s time to rethink the pecking order.