Playoff Breakdown: Isolation is Key to Draw Help, An Adjustment to Protect the Rim

Insight2 weeks ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

It’s wild to think that the Miami Heat have won three consecutive games on the road. Per ESPN, they are now the 5th team in NBA history to do so. Although some will argue whether they really won seeing as they only won one quarter. Because games are decided by which team wins the most quarters, obviously.

As they have done so all playoffs long, they are just doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. They’re going up against all odds and succeeding in whatever way they can. And those ways are also quite unlikely.

In the past two seasons(regular season and the playoffs), this was the Heat’s 17th highest 3pt percentage — the highest was also in these playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks when they shot 60.0 percent.

Although the shooting certainly helped and there were some key 3s that kept them in the game, this game wasn’t won solely on hot shooting.

Isolation is Key to Draw Help

In general, you don’t want to fall into the trap of constantly going into isolation. It’s not ideal to have your offense revolving around that kind of action. It’s not an efficient offense, it can stagnant, force you into late or tough shots, is easier to defend, and keeps everyone else out of rhythm.

With all that said, being able to score or punish defenses by going one-on-one is highly needed for any offense. There needs to be a player or two that can get to his spots and knock down those shots at a good clip. Ideally, they are good, efficient shots.

These possessions are going to be there for both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. There’s going to be a lot of matchup hunting for those two by getting Derrick White, Payton Pritchard, Malcolm Brogdon, Al Horford, and Robert Williams involved.

The Celtics rarely sent help early on. They easily switched those screens and gave those two whatever matchup they wanted. And because of that, Butler was able to get by White with ease or post up Pritchard and finish over them. Adebayo was able to use his speed and beat his man off the dribble.

One other note on matchup hunting. There are certain matchups that each player will want to take advantage of but if either Butler or Adebayo are able to pick whatever matchup they want and comfortably get good looks, then that changes a lot:

This was a key possession. It’s Butler-Adebayo PnR with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown switching. Also, note the setup with the other players — Gabe Vincent is in the corner so that Brogdon is the low man and Kevin Love is near the wing to draw Williams out. Adebayo does a good job sealing Tatum and because of that, a quick move will get him right to the rim. But again there’s no rim protector there.

If the Heat can turn this switch into a legit option, then I’m not sure what the Celtics can do outside of not sending help, which then can open up so much more.

In addition to this, what’s also important is how they’re going to attack in pick-and-rolls. Earlier in the game, especially when Williams was on the floor, Butler went at him. The Celtics chose to switch, drop and late switch, or simply be in a drop — Butler got whatever look he wanted.

In the first two clips, the Celtics ended up switching(though in the second that was kind of forced). The Celtics will also try to keep those actions 2v2, so they won’t be sending much help off shooters. What this gives Butler is space to get to his spots for a clean jumper.

In the next two clips, they didn’t want to switch Williams on him and instead have him drop or kind of show. There was a Butler-Love pick and pop, Williams started to drop but didn’t want to fully commit and Butler got a clear drive to the rim.

Now, this is all very important. All of these looks are both Butler and Adebayo look comfortable. We’ve seen what happens when either player gets comfortable. Celtics fans should rewatch the Bucks series.

So, the Celtics started to send help and once that happens, passes to shooters open up and that’s either an open 3 or they can beat the closeout and put the defense in rotations:

Anytime they drew a double on the drive it was a quick kick to a shooter That’s where the high 3pt percentage helped. What’s encouraging going forward, the percentage doesn’t have to be absurdly high. They just have to make those timely shots.

The question now is whether the Celtics will adjust to that by sending more help earlier to not allow Butler or Adebayo to get in a rhythm. Will they bank on the rest of the guys not shooting as well(we’ve seen how that worked out against the Bucks)?

Everything Starts with Point of Attack Defense

The Heat’s perimeter defense in the first quarter was something. It was something that allowed the Celtics to score 40 points in the paint in the first half. They had 20 makes inside the paint.

Brown against Vincent proved to be not ideal, especially when there wasn’t much help being sent. He was able to get by anyone with ease to the paint and finish over guys.

Too many times guys got beat badly off the dribble. Too many times they got blown by. Poor closeouts and getting beat. Struggling to get around screens.

But that all changed in the second half with two adjustments. The first one is putting Adebayo on Brown and having him switch every screen:

This is the luxury that Adebayo provides. He’s the best switchable big that can stop any potential drive. Check the first clip. Him switching everything takes potential drives away. It stalls the offense. It doesn’t allow any penetration through the 3pt line. No one wants to even test him. And that’s what happened when he was on Brown.

Brown rarely wanted to drive against Adebayo. Instead, there was either a pass or he went up for a shot. On the time he did drive, Adebayo cut him off inside the paint to force a kick out.

But that was half the story. The second adjustment was sending help much earlier and having multiple bodies near the paint to shut that off completely. The Celtics had 14 attempts in the restricted area in the first half but only four in the second:

You still had Adebayo defending Brown most of the time to prevent the initial breakdown in the first place. But what was important here is what happened once someone attempted to drive or before that.

In the first clip, Brown gets Strus on the switch but this time you can see the help is entirely different compared to previously in the game. There is Butler already waiting at the nail. Bam is waiting in the paint. And you also have Love waiting at the rim. They didn’t do anything but their mere presence most likely deterred a drive to even happen. Instead, it’s a Brown long 2.

This was similar in the third clip. Brown is going at Vincent. He easily gets by to the paint but this time there’s Butler already there waiting to dig at him. You also have Bam standing in the paint too. That is completely different from how they defended in the first half.

You also got to give credit where credit is due. Guys held their own. They made sure to get beat less or at least made a much better effort to recover or help on the drive after getting beat. Take that second clip where Tatum couldn’t get by Strus at all.

Now, this was an adjustment in the second half, so I first wonder how will the Celtics adjust. And what will the plan be from Erik Spoelstra to start the game? Is he going to do what worked in the second half immediately? Is Adebayo going to guard Brown a lot more?

So many questions about their paint defense.