What the Celtics need from Tristan Thompson against the Nets
In what was probably a closer game than most people expected,
the Celtics fell short in game one against the Nets on Saturday night. While it
could have been a golden opportunity for the Celtics to get a jump on the
series and get some serious confidence going forward, it still wasn’t a total
loss. The defense looked better than it had for most of the season, and the
weakest point seemed to be the offense.
I know many Celtics fans have lost their confidence in
Kemba, but I for one don’t expect him to play as badly as he did on Saturday
for the rest of the series. In his last 5 games before the playoffs, Kemba was
putting up about 28 points shooting 49% from the field, 43.5% from three. Tatum
and Fournier were also very inefficient on Saturday night, and I have a good
feeling that the three of those guys will get it going tomorrow night in game two.
My real concern in this series is the play of Tristan
Thompson. After trading away Daniel Theis the depth at the center position has
looked pretty shallow, especially with Robert Williams being in and out with
injuries. Williams had a huge impact in game one with his 10 points, 9
rebounds, and Celtics playoff record, 9 blocks (although Bill Russell likely
still holds the record unofficially.) At the moment he’s playing through the
pain of his turf toe that’s kept him out of prior games, but if he ends up
ha ving to take a game off or shorten his minutes, Tristan Thompson is going to
have to step up more than anyone else.
It’s already been pretty clear that the Nets have been
seeking out mismatches, and it’s not incredibly hard for them to do when they
have three superstars who can create their own shot from anywhere on the court.
To start the game Tristan Thompson got switched on to James Harden several
times, and although he wasn’t able to burn Thompson on every possession, Harden
still shot 50% and was able to create more than enough space to get himself open
looks. Thompson is simply not mobile enough to stay in front of Harden, Kyrie,
He has to be prepared to “pick his poison” when defending
them. What I mean by that is that he either has to commit to forcing them to drive
the ball by playing up on the three-point line and relying on his teammates to
rotate, or he has to concede the three and be able to body up to keep them out
of the paint. Either way, it becomes more of a team effort, but it starts with
him. In my opinion, it is more important for Thompson to protect the three-point
line, but in that case the rest of the team has to be prepared to fill in and
protect the paint.
The downside of that is that having Thompson playing on the
three-point line means he is out of the paint and off the boards. If the
Celtics need one thing from Tristan in this series, it’s his rebounding. He had
a team high 10 rebounds in 25 minutes. Between those 10 there was a 50-50 split
of offensive and defensive rebounds, 5 of each. The numbers are decent, but we will
need more from him going forward, especially if Rob Williams is limited. Rob
picked up 5 offensive boards and 4 defensive boards of his own, and Thompson
will have the primary task of filling in if and when Rob is off the court.
Brooklyn is a team that can really kill us off 2nd chance points, so
securing every board should be Thompson’s top priority.
Lastly, Tristan is not known for being the most reliable on
the offensive side of the floor. Fans often cringe when they see him isolate
and try to bully his way into a contested hook shot. When it works, great, but
when it doesn’t, it feels like more than just a wasted possession, and wasted
possessions are not something you can live with against the Nets. Thompson has
to find a way to become more efficient offensively. That may mean confining
himself to only being a screen-and-roller, or even becoming a pass-first
center. He doesn’t have the same athleticism as Rob to become a reliable and
easy lob threat, but if he can cut more effectively instead of posting up, he
can either get himself some easy layups, or he can draw defenders and kick out
the ball to the open man.
Thompson is facing some tall tasks, and although it may not
seem like it, he’s going to be one of the most important players for the
Celtics in this series. His ability to defend on switches, rebound the ball,
and value possessions on the offensive side of the floor are paramount in giving
this team the best chance to upset the Nets, second only to Jayson, Kemba, and
Fournier’s ability to produce buckets and Rob’s ability to stay healthy. He’s
an NBA champion and has stepped up when it mattered in the past, and this is
exactly what Danny Ainge brought him onto the roster for. He’ll have his first
chance to make the adjustments tomorrow night for game two in Brooklyn.