How well the youngest players on the team play will be the difference against the Warriors
The Boston Celtics are heading into their most difficult game of the season, without their most important defender in this matchup. The Celtics have had success against the Golden State Warriors recently, but Marcus Smart has been vital to the disruption that allows them to win.
The Celtics still have a great overall defense that can get the job done without him, it is just impossible to trust the other defenders as much as Smart. Smart is the one guy that you can trust to lock down the opposing back court, and it is going to take a different and collective approach to to throw the Warriors off enough to get that win.
One advantage the Celtics have is phenomenal length and great versatility. The issue is that majority of their length and versatility consists of three rookies and a second year player. They have all done great things this year, but there is no doubt this will be the biggest defensive challenge for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye.
All four of those players should expect to spend some time on Kevin Durant, and that is simply an unfair assignment right now. Unfortunately, there are no other options. The Celtics need Al Horford to be anchoring the paint and bringing the help that will cut out the easy baskets, and neither Aron Baynes or Marcus Morris have shown the defensive ability to take on that matchup.
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All four of them will take some time trying to slow down Durant, but the role of Brown and Tatum will be even more important because they might also have to spend some time defending Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Without Smart, the Celtics will try and see how well Terry Rozier can do, but Brown and Tatum have the length and athleticism to make things a lot harder on the guards. They need to be active enough to make sure there are not too many clean passes, and they have to do everything to make sure they stay in front of either of them any time they catch the ball.
We have seen both of them show the ability to defend like that, but to ask them to do it for an entire game like this is a near impossible task. The Celtics know they need both of them to provide some resistance on offense, and how much they need to disrupt will be directly connected to how much they can score.
The Celtics need to go into this anticipating they will get great offense from Horford and Kyrie Irving. There is absolutely no chance of victory if the two of them are not playing well on offense, but we also know they are not going to be enough by themselves.
The Celtics need both Brown and Tatum to be at their very best on offense as well, because there is always a sense of inevitability with the Warriors. Even if they play a perfect game defensively, you never beat the Warriors playing one dimensional.
Brown and Tatum need to be trusted any time they are taking a shot, and they need to be able to create offense as well. If the Celtics are not getting all their main contributors involved on offense, then Brown and Tatum will have impossible standards to win it on defense.
Ojeleye and Theis will also be major factors on both ends. If the Warriors play well enough, having those top four all play well will not be enough for the Celtics. Durant will always be able to score no matter who is in front of him, but the two of them need to make sure he is uncomfortable. Durant makes the hardest shots in the game look way too easy, but if he does not have to make the difficult play he is going to drop 40 points without even trying.
These guys need to be confident and aggressive, and they need to make sure that Durant is getting no free releases and no easy drives to the rim. The Celtics will be spending so much energy defending the perimeter with the back court, but Durant is just as unstoppable going to the rim, and Theis and Ojeleye need to make sure he is at least hesitating when thinking about going to the rim. The two of them may not have the speed, but they have the strength to see if they can push Durant away from where he is most comfortable.
On top of that, the Celtics need reliable shooting from the two of them. The Warriors will not force the Celtics out of their small ball lineups, so they need to make sure they get that shooting boost. They do not need Ojeleye and Theis to create any offense, but they need to space the floor and they will certainly be in a position to have an impact with their three point shooting.
The Celtics know they will need their best across the board to beat the Warriors, and this is going to be the most responsibility the youngest players on the team have had all season long. Everyone knows the Celtics cannot survive a bad game from Irving or Horford, but with Smart out of the lineup, they will need all four youngsters to be contributing on both ends to have a chance.