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Target practice: Celtics take advantage of mismatches against Lakers’ Austin Reaves

The Lakers guard is the weakest link in LA’s defense.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

Thursday night’s loss to the shorthanded Lakers wasn’t the outcome the Celtics wanted, but as head coach Joe Mazzulla has stressed all year, sometimes, it’s process over results.

To wit, in an interview with The Athletic’s Jay King, Jaylen Brown stressed the importance of not just being the most talented team, but the smartest, too. That’s meant a more “deliberate” focus on the offensive end and forcing and taking advantage of mismatches.

“Attention to detail,” Brown said. “It’s the smallest details. If a big is up or if a big is back. If they’re switching or if they’re staying, maintaining. Just reading the different coverages on the fly and making the right read versus the right coverage.”

Mazzulla followed up by saying that t Austin Reaves. Reaves is a scrappy player. He finds ways to get to the line on offense and uses his wiry 6’5 frame as best he can on D, but he’s a below average defender. In a playoff series, he’ll get targeted and picked on by the best teams and that’s what Boston did for most of the night.

Per Second Spectrum tracking, offensive players shoot 6% better against Reaves on two-point shots. Of all the Lakers perimeter defenders, he is attacked the most. By comparison, here are the Celtics’ top-6 under the same microscope:

Celtics Top-6 Defending 2-Pointers

PLAYER TEAM AGE POSITION GP G FREQ% DFGM DFGA DFG% FG% DIFF%
PLAYER TEAM AGE POSITION GP G FREQ% DFGM DFGA DFG% FG% DIFF%
Kristaps Porzingis BOS 28 F-C 35 35 70.5 6.3 13.7 45.6 55.5 -9.9
Al Horford BOS 37 C-F 40 40 65.6 4.7 9 51.8 54.7 -2.8
Derrick White BOS 29 G 45 45 64.3 4.6 8.9 51 54.4 -3.4
Jrue Holiday BOS 33 G 45 45 61 4.7 8.9 53.1 55 -1.8
Luke Kornet BOS 28 C-F 33 33 66.9 3.5 6.7 52.7 54.3 -1.6
Jayson Tatum BOS 25 F-G 46 45 59.9 3.6 6.6 54.1 54.9 -0.8
Jaylen Brown BOS 27 G-F 46 46 58.1 3.1 6.1 50.2 54.7 -4.5

All are plus-defenders inside the three-point line and nobody is really singled-out.

To open the game, Reaves started on Derrick White (with D’Angelo Russell checking Jrue Holiday). Immediately, the Celtics put him through multiple screens, hoping to either get him switched on to Jayson Tatum or Kristaps Porzingis. Above, the Lakers fail to communicate the coverage and White waltzes in for the uncontested layup.

Here’s a similar action to open the third quarter. Again, it’s Reaves on White. Reaves goes over the screen and gets a fingernail on White’s jersey as he scoots past him and hits Porzingis for an alley-oop dunk with Jaxson Hayes in no man’s land.

Late in the fourth quarter with the Celtics still attempting a comeback, it was Holiday’s turn to go one-on-one with Reaves. On back-to-back possessions, Holiday pounded him in the post for easy buckets.

On the evening, the Celtics made 6-of-9 shots against the Lakers poorest perimeter defender, once again flexing both their talent and brains. Back in December, they were 12-of-15 against him. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough against their rival on Thursday night, but if the two face off in the Finals for the thirteenth time for Banner 18 this summer, don’t be surprised if Reaves is again the focus of the Celtics offense.

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