Celtics

NBA Notebook: Five keys to the Celtics’ Game 3 turnaround: Can they sustain them?

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A mix of analysis and observations on what helped turn the tide for Boston in Saturday's convincing win over the Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. 

1. Getting Bam Adebayo out of the paint: Rim protection is not a strength for Miami once you get beyond their All-Star center Bam Adebayo. Over the first two games of the series, the Celtics did not take advantage of that fact as much as they should, settling for 3-pointers and long jumpers when there were superior options available in the paint. With Adebayo serving as the only notable deterrent down low, Brad Stevens came up with a pretty good gameplan in Game 3: Get Adebayo out of the paint. It was apparent from the opening tip that this was a focus as Daniel Theis spent the C’s first offensive possession heading to the corner, forcing Adebayo to honor his 3-point range and limit him from camping out in good position to help on drives. The C’s took advantage with a pick-and-roll that opened a driving lane for Marcus Smart after a swing pass. Adebayo was too far away to help, opening up the finish for Smart.

Theis camping out in the corner was a familiar theme for much of the first half when he matched up against Adebayo but the Celtics also did a smart job of mixing in actions that forced Miami switches. A couple of plays were run by Stevens where Adebayo found himself on a guard after a pick-and-roll switch on the perimeter, forcing him to stay home. The C’s would then swing the ball to a mismatch and let a wing drive to the basket with limited resistance.

All in all, the gameplan opened up a floor a ton for Boston as they piled up 60 points in the paint, nearly doubling up the Heat (60-36) in that category. Miami will likely try to make adjustments to their defensive gameplan to help keep Adebayo close to the paint in Game 4 more consistently but Miami was unable to adjust to it in time to comeback in a critical Game 3 win for Boston

2. Putting a target on Duncan Robinson’s back on defense: Robinson, a Maine native, is one of the best feel-good stories in the NBA, going from a two-way contract last year to one of the league’s best sharpshooters this season. However, there was a reason Robinson went undrafted and was playing in the G-League last year and it was largely because of his defense. He’s got a slender build and lacks the athleticism that the Celtics are full of on the wing. The Celtics went after him early in Game 1, getting him into foul trouble quickly and they might as well have painted a target on his back in Game 3 with how they went after him in the halfcourt.

Jaylen Brown was at the forefront of the attacking (11-of-17 FG), doing most of his damage on dribble drives or simply getting good position in the post down low, as he did in transition here.

Brown went 5-of-6 against Robinson when the pair was matched up in Game 3, leading a host of Celtics that had success against the Heat’s weakest defender in the starting five. As a team, the Celtics went 9-of-15 (60 percent from the field) anytime they were matched up with Robinson which helped to nullify most of his offensive gains (4-of-8 from 3-point range, 13 points).

The postseason is a time to go after opponent weak spots without remorse and the Celtics are doing it now with Robinson, which may force Erik Spoelstra to make a sacrifice on offense for the sake of better defense. Boston’s numerous talented two-way wings with Gordon Hayward now back healthy makes this an issue that Brad Stevens doesn’t have to worry about as he has guys to go after Robinson every second he’s on the floor now. With Miami’s bench playing lackluster minutes in Game 3 beyond Tyler Herro, there’s not a lot of good places for Spoelstra to turn to. Until changes are made, Robinson will keep getting targeted.

3. Brad Stevens decides to make someone besides Goran Dragic beat him: The adjustment was