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Well, Game One could have gone better, eh?


Probably none of us expected to win, though I am one of many of you who thought we had a good shot last night, and even though the Boston Celtics lost the first game of the series by double digits, there were some good takeaways from the loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that, if acted on, might be the key to snatching a game away from Lebron James and company before we head to their floor. Some of the more obvious takeaways are kind of "duh" in their simplicity - for example, we're going to have to try doubling Lebron and whatever players get a hot hand - but some might not be so obvious, so let's dig in, starting with what did not work, and exploring some possible solutions.

WHAT WENT WRONG, AND HOW TO FIX IT


Well, lots went wrong. Boston's play was tight, stiff and forced. Sometimes, the history of the club can be a buoying force, able to lift the team to another level of play. Sometimes, connecting the dots between past greatness and the present moment can be a little overwhelming, and with all the news of the draft lottery win and clawing through two grueling series with no rest, I think the Celts were mostly going through the motions, relying on narrative to fuel what little attack they managed to muster. As many others have written, Boston's playing on house money, and that can be a double-edged sword. If you play loose and enjoy the lack of pressure given almost nobody expected you to be here anyhow, good things can happen. But Boston isn't here because of narratives, they are here because of strategy, solid play, and bench contributions - and precisely zero of those three things were firing for the majority of the game.


To be fair, for the latter half of the third and much of the fourth quarter, Boston held its own in terms of solid play...after getting itself into a deep hole it nearly dug out of. Imagine, if you will, that level of play was constant through the whole game, with a few less stupid fouls, crisper passes, better defensive alertness, and more importantly, a better-suited lineup to execute it. It might have been close, maybe even a win. This brings us to the lineup aspect; Amir Johnson is occasionally still an amazing player, but he's got the ankle version of last season's Kevin Garnett knees - meaning he can play at a high level for five to ten minutes on fresh legs, but if he's played a game in the last 48 hours or is taken out of the game...he's toast. Use that to your advantage! Have him rest for all of Game Two, or perhaps play three to five minutes in the third to give fresher legs a quick break, then bring him back for a Game Three stint of longer minutes, but DO NOT START HIM unless you're playing against the Golden State Warriors, and, well... we aren't, and probably won't be.


This loss was by no means something to pin on Amir, though - Isaiah Thomas cannot be the primary ballhandler, or he'll continue to get shut down and roughed up extensively, as he was last night. Terry Rozier and Al Horford should split the ballhandling duties, with Rozier bringing it up quickly and Al distributing while IT moves off-ball with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley doing the same on the second unit, respectively. Most importantly, it's time to give Jaylen Brown the start at the three, with Jae Crowder moving to a small-ball five roll, with the idea being that the tandem will be best suited for guarding LeBron James in transition (Jaylen) and near the basket (Jae), while leaving Al free to help from either the perimeter or near-basket as applicable while leaving guards free to cover shooters.


A partial zone defense will help, save for LeBron back-cuts, and there's not much to be done about that besides deflect them before they start. The second unit can duplicate the Jaylen/Jae 3/5 strategy with Gerald Green and Jonas Jerebko, whose size and length should be able to hold their own against a bigger but relatively vulnerable Cavs second unit. Forcing Cleveland to rely on jumpers has its own (VERY BIG) risks, but it's certainly better than leaving the lane wide-open for LeBron and Tristan Thomas to shove dunk after dunk down their throats. Live with the high-percentage shots, don't turn the ball over, make the extra pass to tire them as much as possible...and enjoy the experience.

They've earned it, after all, so why not?


That's it. That's all I got. Not much else to say against a team with the bulk of the league's best three-point shooters not named Kevin, Steph, or Klay surrounding a top-five all-time talent. They are all old or aging, we are young (and getting younger), and our future is so bright, we're gonna have to wear a blast shield. So, get yourself some strategy if you're on court, or some beers (or whatever trips your trigger) if you're a spectator, enjoy the show, steal a win maybe, and think about how much fun it's going to be to repay LeBron et al. soon enough.


For more stories about the Playoffs on CelticsLife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.



Photo via NBA.com
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 5/18/2017 12:57:00 PM Edit
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