The Celtics were thoroughly shut down in Game 3. As ESPN’s Chris Forsberg says in the latest Locked On Celtics podcast, the Celtics uncharacteristically failed to mount any sort of comeback in this game.
Part of why they couldn’t is because they couldn’t get Al Horford going. Everyone involved knows getting Horford just four shots is inexcusable.
Ty Lue is riding with centers — Tristan Thompson and the revitalized Larry Nance Jr. — and gave both of them a clear directive in Game 3: stick with Al Horford at all times. Horford is one of the wiliest screeners in modern NBA history. He loves to slip picks before really setting them, or to veer off toward the 3-point arc. He’ll sometimes meander out as if to set a screen, only to stop five feet short and force his defender to navigate a confusing situation.
Go read Zach’s piece for a lot more on the Cavs defense. (Side note: you should always read Zach’s stuff).
I, though, want to focus on the offense for a second. I’m going to piggy back on an example Zach uses in his piece. This play:
I wrote about this play during the Philadelphia series. It’s a side slip of the screen and roll. It’s a great way to beat an aggressive defense, but it can be used very well to get Horford going.
The timing is way off. This isn’t an uncommon problem for the Celtics. I’ll bring this video back to illustrate the difference. I want you to look at how long Terry Rozier holds the ball in the gif above, and then watch how quickly the guards in this video get it to the man slipping the screen.
Whenever that pass is made, it’s made quickly. Because Rozier waits so long, Thompson has recovered by the time Horford catches the pass.
If you watch closely, Thompson’s first step is to his left on the pick. He then quickly changes direction and gets to Horford. This reminds me of a couple of other plays involving Horford where the timing was off versus when it was correct.
As I said in my tweets, getting the ball to Horford earlier allows him to attack a closeout versus facing up against a set defender.
Going back to the Rozier play… he has to read where Thompson’s momentum is going and make the pass to put Horford in an advantageous situation. Thompson would have been out of position, and he would have had to attack hard on Horford.
From there, Al could have either taken the 3 if he felt he had time or upfake and attack the closeout. With Thompson out of position, the entire thing would have fallen apart for Cleveland.
There was not a lot of help in that lane.
So I would contend that the defense played by Cleveland on this play wasn’t as good as it looked, and it could have been exploited if the Celtics had better timing.
Terry Rozier has had pretty good run for the Celtics this postseason, but his timing as a point guard still needs work (not a knock on him, just something a young player has to work on).
The Celtics need to get Horford going, and they can help him out by getting him the ball at the right time to take advantage of his skills.