Game. Seven. The two greatest words imaginable for professional basketball fans. For Brad Steven’s fledgling Celtics though, it’s yet another forum to prove themselves on their path to the promise land.
In 2015, it was a four game sweep in the first round, courtesy of LeBron James’ Cavaliers. Last year it was a six game route by the Atlanta Hawks, once again falling in the first round. Finally the Celtics have made headway, besting the Chicago Bulls in six games thanks in part to Rajon Rondo’s injury in Game No.2, and key adjustments by coach Stevens.
Now the Celtics are nearing the conclusion of a back and forth tennis match with the Washington Almost-Bullets, boasting a handful of blowouts, and two highly competitive games that went down to the wire. Oddly enough though, the home team is still 6-0 thus far in the series. Of course the Celtics will need more than a home court advantage to closeout this relentless and resilient Wizards team.
So with all of that, here are three points of emphasis for the Celtics heading into game seven:
1. Involve All Five Players
Isaiah Thomas is a phenomenal scorer, maybe one of the best in Celtics history, but he’s not a dominant force that the team can solely entrust their hopes of advancing to. Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Kelly Olynyk all have to find their own rhythm — along with their leading scorer.
Boston’s offense is contingent on maintaining a fast pace. So the Celtics can’t only run their offense through Thomas via pick ‘n rolls. They have to utilize Al Horford as a ball-handler, moving Gortat away from the basket and allowing Thomas to play away from the ball.
If four starters can score in double digits, along with a few other key surges off the bench from players like Olynyk, Smart and Rozier; then the Celtics will have almost guaranteed their ticket to a showdown with Cleveland.
2. Lock in Defensively
It goes without saying that the Celtics can’t win if John Wall and Bradley Beal score a combined 50 points, something that Hawks alumni and color commentator, Dominique Wilkins, dually noted.
Bradley Beal transformed into some sort of serial killer late in game 6, hitting one contested layup after another, followed by John Wall’s game-winner with 3.5 seconds left. Obviously those kinds of outstanding plays, whether it be finishing in contact or draining deep contested three’s, are impossible to prepare for. But, there are definitely measures the Celtics could take to stave off the Wizards relentless attack.
The first step is limiting fast-break points a-la John Wall, who literally becomes something of a blur once he starts barreling down court. Of course limiting fast break opportunities begins with making shots, giving meaning to the old adage; “sometimes offense is the greatest defense.” However, the Celtics can at least limit the one-man-fast-break into some form of early offense if they emphasize transition defense, just getting back fast enough to defend the rim.
The second step is continuing to lull John Wall in the half court, and collapsing on him once he enters the paint. The Celtics have had a lot of luck in their three wins forcing Wall into poorly advised layups, or deflecting kick outs and wreaking havoc in transition.
3. Attacking the Boards
I feel like a columnist who’s evolved into a talking head that regurgetates the same takes, but the Celtics really do suck at rebounding. They gave up offensive rebound after offensive rebound in the fourth quater — allowing the Wizards to reset their offense, drain more clock, and take one more shot.
Just like in the Chicago series, the Celtics need to either need to go small and find their offensive rhythm, or actually emphasize boxing out and attacking the glass. Boston’s big men have to remember that a defensive possession never ends until the rebound has been secured.