Celtics

Robb: Celtics need more from Brad Stevens amid late-game offensive woes in Game 1

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Late-game offense has always been a strength of Brad Stevens in Boston. He has one of the most creative minds in the NBA and has drawn up countless ATO gems, many of them coming at crucial times in the postseason during the team’s last run to the East Finals in 2018.

That type of decision making and feel is what has helped separate him from the pack when it comes to coaching in the NBA. Usually, he knows when to push buttons and get the ball to somewhere where the defense isn’t expecting it to be, he knows when to turn down a timeout to run something so the defense doesn’t get organized.

Yet, when the Celtics had their best chance to close things out in Game 1 in regulation on Tuesday night, Brad Stevens appeared to go AWOL in a big spot.

Marcus Smart was in the midst of one of his best postseason shooting nights ever (26 points, 6-of-12 from 3) while Jaylen Brown had a quiet but efficient night (15 points, 5-of-12 FG) going. One of the best parts of Boston’s crunch time lineups is that they have so many scoring threats at the floor at one time, yet they all went to waste in the crunch time of regulation. Not one Celtic besides Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker touched the ball on offense in the final 2:53 of regulation except for an offensive rebound by Brown (which was thrown out to Walker instantly for him to run more clock for another isolation).

Instead, the Celtics turned to a two-man Tatum/Walker game that produced just two points in the five field goal attempts in their final 170 seconds of the game. A deep 3 by Tatum was the only ‘open’ look, while he was forced into a turnaround jumper against Butler in one spot. Walker made one floater against Crowder in the paint but he also struggled to get separation on his other possessions.

This type of predictable, stagnant offense in a tight game would be understandable for a possession or two. Instead, it happened on four consecutive possessions, opening the door for the Celtics to blow a five-point lead with a minute remaining.

I guess the bigger problem with this type of play in a game like this is the fact that Brad Stevens ended regulation with an extra timeout in his pocket. He saw the offense drying up for this team down the stretch as they blew 14-point fourth-quarter lead and weren’t moving the ball in regulation. In that spot, he needs to be the one to either call timeout or get this group running a play he calls to get the ball moving again, especially when Walker is in the midst of a 4-of-17 shooting night.

The Heat are not as disciplined as the Raptors defensively. Outside of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, they don’t have elite defenders so if you can get the ball moving against them, you can get a good look (something that happened when Boston began running normal offense again in overtime). Instead, it was Tatum going into hero mode against Miami’s best defender (Butler) and Walker trying to carry the offense on a night where he didn’t have his usual spring in his step to gain separation from the opening quarter. Getting inferior defenders in switches doesn’t matter when a guy just doesn’t have his usual burst. Instead, it leads to plays like this:

“I think obviously switching has something to do with it but we need to handle it better, there’s no question about it,” Stevens said after Game 1. “Not only was there probably too much pounding of the ball there was also not as much space the way that they were guarding. So we need to do a better job of that. We’ll go back and look at different ways that we can attack better at the end of the game.”

Publicly, Stevens had Tatum’s back for his late-game shot selection (2-of-10 in the fourth quarter and overtime), as he should. Privately, there should be