Avery Bradley: LeBron James exposed Boston Celtics defense, saw something they couldn't figure out

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Avery Bradley: LeBron James exposed Boston Celtics defense, saw something they couldn't figure out

Post by bobheckler on Thu Apr 06, 2017 11:33 am

http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/04/lebron_james_boston_celtics_cl.html#incart_river_index




Avery Bradley: LeBron James exposed Boston Celtics defense, saw something they couldn't figure out




Updated on April 6, 2017 at 4:28 AM Posted on April 6, 2017 at 4:00 AM




Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, is fouled by Boston Celtics center Al Horford during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)




BY JAY KING




BOSTON -- This is why people will doubt the Boston Celtics can truly contend in the Eastern Conference: because some of their holes matter more against top teams, because their bench has bottomed out since the All-Star break, and, most of all, because they do not have LeBron James, who showed once more Wednesday night why the East has belonged to him for the last half-dozen years.

"LeBron picked us apart," Avery Bradley stated after the Celtics' 114-91 defeat, which dropped them out of a first-place tie in the East and seriously dented their chances of earning the top seed.

Bradley was not lying. After scoffing at the notion that such an accomplished player would place any significant importance on a regular season game, James played like someone who heard the doubters, understood the stakes, and intended to quiet anybody worried about the Cavaliers' recent slippage. Over 39 minutes, he collected 36 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a +32 rating. After one highlight, he walked into the crowd to high-five a group of Cavaliers fans who had managed to find quality tickets. After another, he gestured at the Cleveland bench, as if to say, "Don't worry, guys. We're going to be more than OK."


Standing in the Boston locker room later, Bradley marveled at James' basketball genius, pointing out how the four-time MVP targeted a weakness in the Celtics defense.

"They ran the same play at least 10 times in a row and he either scored or made a play for a teammate," Bradley said. "We have to do a better job of containing him, trying to force him to take contested 2s."

Pressed on the issue, Bradley added: "He saw something that we couldn't figure out. That's why he's LeBron James. He saw that he wanted to get Isaiah (Thomas) in pick-and-roll. He knew what guy he wanted to get in pick-and-roll so he could expose our defense. As a team you have to cover each other, you have to talk and you have to have each other's back. And we didn't do that tonight."

A re-watch of most Cleveland possessions did not provide any clarity about the 10-play stretch Bradley noted. James recorded 15 points, three rebounds and three assists during the decisive second quarter, but did so in all sorts of ways: finding teammates from the elbow, damaging the smaller Marcus Smart in the paint, diving past Kelly Olynyk on a cut, charging past the Celtics in transition. Shifting James to center, the Cavaliers cleared space for the superstar to create by placing shooters at every other position. Boston didn't really know how to match up. Smart guarded James, but gave up too much size in the matchup. Olynyk defended the smaller Richard Jefferson but failed to handle the task well. Over a span of 5:20, James dominated a 22-4 run which put the Celtics down, 41-24.



Throughout the game, he patiently sought mismatches, then took advantage of them. James bullied Smart and Bradley with post-ups, decisively attacked bigs like Olynyk on switches, and cruised past everyone on the break. No matter what Boston tried, he chose the right method to combat the strategy.

"LeBron did a great job of getting us in the pick-and-roll and picking us apart," Bradley said. "We have to be wide, we have to talk, we have to make sure we're helping each other out. We can't just put a guy on an island with LeBron James, he's a very good player. We have to do a better job of helping each other and contain him.

"I think it's hard (to decide between guarding the shooters and helping on James)," Bradley said. "It was almost - with Tristan Thompson out it was harder for us to guard them because we had no one that could help as much. And we knew that going into the game. But it's just our job to make sure that we're talking a little bit more and helping each other out."


The 1-3 pick-and-roll

Despite Bradley's suggestion James targeted Thomas in the pick-and-roll, the Celtics' 5-foot-9 star was on the bench throughout that second-quarter run. According to NBA.com, Boston defended at about the same (very bad) level whether Thomas was on the court or off it.


The Cavaliers scored regardless, but the 1-3 pick-and-roll -- which forces Thomas to defend a James action -- remains an area of concern for Boston if the two teams meet in the postseason. James hurt Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors with that in last year's Finals and used it a bit Wednesday, though not as much as Bradley's quote hinted. Here's one example:

https://streamable.com/h47xg


As CBS Sports' Matt Moore noted on Twitter, James can be seen orchestrating the action to set up the pick-and-roll he wants at the top of the key. After waiting for Kyrie Irving to clear out, James notices a botched Celtics communication. Jae Crowder tries to force James away from the screen, but Thomas sets up on the other side, inadvertently taking himself out of the play.

The Celtics can handle that better, like they did here before Kevin Love grabbed an offensive rebound:

https://media.giphy.com/media/l4FGCbUGdZwBI8K3K/giphy.mp4


Still, that's a dangerous situation, with Thomas forced to hedge on a 6-8, 260-pound point guard while his man (in this case, Kyrie Irving) relocates for a possible pass. Not many teams have big wings capable of running productive pick-and-rolls, but two of the best teams in the East -- the Cavs with James and the Raptors with DeMar DeRozan -- can stretch the Celtics that way.

Earlier this season, Boston head coach Brad Stevens noted the importance of defending that specific action.

"I think that's something we're going to see a ton of regardless of if it's Toronto or anybody else. So we've prepared for that quite a bit," Stevens said. "I think we have to be able to guard it a number of different ways. Because that's what people are going to go to. If you watch the NBA Finals that's what people went to all the time because obviously you get the big, strong wings that can just lift up over the smaller guards. And you have to account for that defensively. Sometimes I think we overthink it because Isaiah really does a great job on bigger guys and getting up underneath them and making it as tough as possible, but sometimes that's not the right answer. So you just have to play it by matchup, play it by how things have gone in the past, how that person's going, how you're rebounding, all those other factors that come into play."

"The biggest danger of not switching, I think any time you get off the body of really good players it's really difficult," Stevens added then. "And then I think any time that you're not switching you could be inviting rotations which is a rebounding issue."


Ugh, rebounding issues

The Celtics have actually done an admirable job of shoring up their defensive rebounding issues, but remain susceptible to big, strong guys with a nose for the basketball. Even without Tristan Thompson (thumb), the Cavaliers grabbed six offensive rebounds over the first seven minutes, thanks largely to Kevin Love.

Boston can play much better, but the rough outing highlighted some of the team's flaws. The bench has flattened recently. Rebounding can be trying. Scoring with Thomas off the court has dried up since the break. Behind Crowder, the Celtics don't have much depth on the wing.

"We were lucky it wasn't worse," Stevens said of Wednesday's loss.

"If anything it brings us together as a team a little bit more because we got exposed tonight, I guess you can say," Bradley added. "We know that we need to do a better job."

They need to. They can. But in case anyone doubted it, the East still goes through King James.



bob
MY NOTE:  If what Bradley said is true, that they ran the same play 10x and we didn't/couldn't stop them, then that's on Brad too.  Another interesting point, to me, is that losing Tristan Thompson made our job harder because he was replaced by a shooter.  Take away their starting center, who is an absolute beast on the boards, and they got better.  The game is definitely moving towards shooters and offense.  And Jay King is right, our bench has bottomed out.  Nobody is scoring with consistency.  Jaylen does well when he starts, but doesn't score off the bench.  Rozier's defense and rebounding are excellent, but he is a terrible shooter.  Smart, well, is Smart.  He is the Anti-Shooter.  Gerald Green has shown up from time to time but isn't getting steady minutes.  Maybe if he did we'd score more off the bench.  Jonas' offense has disappeared and Kelly is up-and-down as usual.  We are overloaded with non-shooting defenders off the bench.


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