Brad Stevens continues to show his brilliance against the Hawks
The best-of-seven series between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks has become a best-of-three. After the Hawks dispatched the Celtics in the first two games of this series, the Celtics responded on their home floor in games three and four, in what has been a wildly entertaining, back-and-forth series.
After a historically bad performance in Game 2, the pressure quickly mounted on Brad Stevens and the rest of the Celtics. While nobody really held last year’s sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers against Stevens, people started to whisper after Boston found themselves in an 0-2 hole against the Hawks. Some even went as far as to question whether Stevens is overrated.
With his team’s back against the wall, Stevens, and his players, responded. He adjusted the starting lineup before Game 3, inserting Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner into it. Jerebko has since recorded 27 points, 22 rebounds and has established himself as a legitimate three-point threat. Turner meanwhile, has filled up the stat sheet as he has done throughout the regular season. In games three and four combined, Turner posted 34 points, nine rebounds, 13 assists, three blocks and six steals.
While Stevens’ adjustments resulted in strong performances from these guys, the ultimate goal was to open things up for Isaiah Thomas – Mission accomplished.
The regular season scoring-machine that Celtics’ fans grew accustomed to emerged in Boston this past weekend. By pairing Turner and Thomas together, it allowed Thomas to play off-the-ball and spot up behind the three-point line on occasion. He didn’t have to handle the ball on every single possession. It also gave Turner the opportunity to create some offense for himself, as well as his teammates.
The Hawks defense had bottled up Thomas in the first two games, as he shot just 12-of-36. They crowded the paint and anytime Thomas got by his initial defender, two, and sometimes three, more Hawks would swarm Thomas and prevent him from getting a clean look at the basket. Determined to not let Thomas beat them, Atlanta was content to leave other Celtics unattended at the three-point line. Boston simply wasn’t converting.
It seemed like such an easy fix, just make some shots. If the Celtics could start knocking down some open jumpers, things would get a little bit easier for Thomas. Well, they did, and it did.
Stevens also threw a curveball at Atlanta late in yesterday’s game, one that Kyle Korver admitted, took them off of their game. With Paul Millsap having himself a career-night, Stevens threw different personnel at him all game long, but nothing could slow him down. That’s when Stevens turned to Marcus Smart. What he lacked in size, he made up for in fight, and that’s what Stevens was counting on. Millsap proceeded to go 1-of-5 when guarded by Smart.
Now, the Celtics find themselves with momentum on their side as the series, and the pressure, shifts to Atlanta.
Specifically, the pressure has shifted to Mike Budenholzer. Stevens pushed all the right buttons over the weekend and his team is now back in the series. Budenholzer hasn’t had many opportunities, or reasons, to make any adjustments so far, however, when he has, he has failed miserably.
I understand Atlanta is a team that thrives on the three-pointer, but they have taken way too many this series, playing right into Boston’s strength. The Celtics are one of the best in the league at defending the three, and it’s showing. The Hawks have shot under 28 percent from three this series, while averaging over 33 attempts per game. Despite having a significant advantage with Millsap and Al Horford, there has been no real effort to go inside. Budenholzer has been content with watching his team launch threes, instead of trying to exploit Boston’s interior.
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While there’s still time for him to change that, there’s no coming back from what happened last night. The most egregious of Budenholzer’s failings was that disaster of a playcall on the final possession of regulation. Budenholzer called not one, but two timeouts to talk over that final possession – the one that ended in Jeff Teague almost dribbling out the clock before he threw the ball straight up in the air, caught it and flung a miserable game-winning shot attempt towards the basket.
I would have loved to have been in those huddles, just to hear what was actually discussed. Was a play actually drawn up and Teague just refused to run it? Or was the play really to have Teague wind the clock down and throw up a desperation three? Nobody came to set a screen for him. Kent Bazemore legitimately did not move the entire possession. It was one of the worst final possessions I have ever seen.
Budenholzer was able to coast through the first two games, leaving Stevens to make all of the adjustments. Will Budenholzer respond, or continue to let Stevens coach circles around him? Will he try to get Horford some more touches? Will he continue to allow Bazemore to get 14 field goal attempts per game? The ball is in Budenholzer’s court.