The Boston Celtics made big moves to get a lot of talent at the top of their roster. Money that was once spread throughout 15 solid players is now being paid to a few much more talented guys at the top, which inherently means a thinner bench made of cheaper players.
This is something that happens to every team that goes through a metamorphosis like this. When Danny Ainge built the Pierce, Garnett, Allen “Big 3,” he filled the bench with cheaper veterans. Now, because the timeline is different, the back-end of the rotation is full of unproven, yet inexpensive, rookie talent.
We knew coming into this season that the Celtics would have some bench issues. We knew Brad Stevens would have to stagger Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to have some top-shelf talent on the floor at all times to minimize the reliance on too many rookies. The stars would have to play a couple more minutes than Stevens has played guys in the past in an effort to bring younger guys along without hurting overall performance.
Unfortunately, that plan changed less than six minutes into the season. It’s a problem exacerbated by the absence of Marcus Morris, who would probably be asked to pick up a bunch of that slack.
Now, with the Celtics playing their third game in four nights (in three different cities, mind you), a worst-case scenario has presented itself. Brad Stevens has to dip into his young bench and hope the talent and basketball IQ they possess is enough to get them through stretches of games where stars are sitting.
Against Milwaukee, Brad turned to Semi Ojeleye early in the fourth. Stevens asked Ojeleye to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was on his way to a monster night.
What followed was a baptism by fire that ultimately burned the Celtics. In the long run, this may be a small step backwards before a giant leap forward for Ojeleye, but there’s no sugar-coating how bad this was for him.
In this play, Ojeleye and Rozier both make mistakes. Semi, though, lacked a general awareness of his teammates on defense.
Dellavedova gets past Rozier and Semi comes over to help. Bayes, though, was in position to slow Delly down, so all Semi needed to do was hedge over to take away the mid-range jumper while still protecting the lanes. Instead, he kept sliding all the way down, forcing Rozier to overreact in helping with Semi’s man. Giannis and Delly recognize this, Giannis cuts, draws everyone’s attention, and dumps it off for a dunk.
Semi and Rozier had another mixup that cost Boston a dunk.
Semi tried to “show”… which, in a pick-and roll, is when the screener’s defender pops out to slow down the ballhandler. You “show him your numbers”… which mean you are up in his face and you prevent him from making a play long enough for his defender to get back into the mix.
The show did nothing. Delly dribbled around it. Semi and Rozier get mixed up and Giannis is doing a chin up on the rim.
Things didn’t get much better for Ojeleye on offense. Watch Kyrie Irving bring the ball up and wave Semi out to where he’s supposed to be.
Semi’s confused about where he’s supposed to be. His point guard is waving him out of the spot. Then, he runs to the opposite corner, where Jaylen Brown is already standing. You don’t need to be a basketball expert to know two teammates standing in the same corner is bad. Luckily a foul on Giannis stopped the play.
Here, Semi tries to read what’s happening and cut. He does it twice… both times thinking “my defender has turned his head, time to cut to the basket.”
In this instance, it’s the wrong play because Baynes and Irving are running a play that seemed to try to get Rozier into the space Semi just dove into.
The ball is dumped into Smart in the post, Baynes sets the pick, and Rozier was curling off that. The goal, it seemed was to have Jaylen Brown occupying a defender in the corner, Ojeleye on the high-opposite wing, and then see if Smart could find Rozier curling around the pick and down the lane.
When Ojeleye cut, though, it pulled Jaylen’s man into the lane. When Rozier came around the pick, all five Bucks are suddenly in the lane. Amazingly, skinny Marcus split a lazy double team and drew a foul. Otherwise, the spacing turned into a horrible mess.
Here, Semi did it again…
Coaches like to say “once you see the back of your defender’s head, you cut.” However, players have to see the whole play. Yes, Giannis turned his head and wasn’t looking, but was your point guard aware of this?
No, he wasn’t. He was running a pick and roll with Baynes, who rolled to the basket at the same time. Now, two Celtics and three Bucks are in a very confined space. Semi has to pop back out to the corner just so Kyrie can reset the play. Kyrie ended up getting blocked out of bounds but the cut took away options for the Celtics as they tried to hold onto a lead.
This isn’t meant to cut down Semi Ojeleye. I really like his skills and potential. Stevens is going to call on him again over the next few months, and these failures will be opportunities to learn.
Ultimately, though, these are the perils of tossing a rookie into the deep end. This time Semi’s play sank the Celtics chances of beating the Bucks. Next time, hopefully, he can keep the team afloat long enough for the stars to come in and close out a win.