By J.M. Poulard
Any San Antonio Spurs fan will tell you that there is a method to the madness when it comes to pounding a rock. One needs to deliver numerous hits at a similar point of attack in order to progressively weaken the structure and shatter the rock. There are several ways to do this, some better than others.
The Boston Celtics spent the entire season figuring out how to best pound the rock, and it served them well in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals versus the Washington Wizards.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens prepared his unit masterfully by getting his squad to embrace team basketball and the art of coordinated strikes at the heart of the opponents’ greatest weaknesses.
As a result, Boston kept hitting Washington over and over again in a way that almost felt embarrassing given Washington’s inability to adjust.
The Celtics’ coaching staff repeatedly took advantage of the Wizards’ poor defensive rotations and communication to consistently set up high-quality looks.
The story of the game was Kelly Olynyk’s reign of terror (26 points on 10-of-14 shooting), and his performance stemmed from the attention to detail the team emphasized in its offensive execution.
Watch here as the Celtics get Olynyk open with crisp off-ball movement and screening:
Four of Celtics players were involved in the play while Avery Bradley was spacing the floor in the weak side corner to occupy a defender. Boston ran these kinds of sets throughout most of the fourth quarter given that Washington repeatedly got lost in coverage.
Watch below as Boston runs a slight variation of the same play and Olynyk this time spaces to the 3-point line:
Boston double dared Washington to commit help to Isaiah Thomas (29 points, 12 assists) and made the opposition pay for it dearly.
“We needed to help out our starters, help out Isaiah,” Olynyk shared, per the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn. “He’s been putting us in really good positions and the type of attention they were drawing to him, he was getting rid of it and putting up in great positions and we had to make plays. That’s what we tried to do.”
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It’s worth noting, the Celtics aren’t a one-trick pony. Once they got Olynyk rolling, they looked to exploit whatever advantage he could generate. That’s how Olynyk ended up in a pick-and-roll with Marcus Smart that produced a switch and immediately led to a post-up:
Boston’s play-calling was on point, especially late in the game, and more importantly, the players’ collective intelligence stood out in the deciding contest of this series. The Celtics read the floor as one and operated collectively in a manner that continued to yield positive results.
Stevens’ group adjusted with the flow off the game and understood where to attack Washington, whereas the Wizards never really figured it out.
Their offense looked choppy at times, lacked direction, rhythm and cohesiveness.
Every time a Wizards big man attempted to post up, it resulted either in a turnover or horrendous shot. And yet, Washington head coach Scott Brooks allowed his team to try and milk those plays on far too many occasions when one looks at its success rate.
Marcin Gortat had trouble backing down Al Horford and Amir Johnson, while Markieff Morris faced the same issue.
The only players that had any semblance of success posting up were Otto Porter Jr., Bradley Beal and John Wall—all perimeter players. It must be stated, the low-post game isn’t a strength of theirs, which ultimately led Washington back to playing on the perimeter.
The Wizards, after all, have a very dynamic backcourt and asked Wall (18 points, 11 assists) and Beal (38 points on 12-for-22 shooting) to create offense for most of the night.
That was a losing proposition.
Washington became incredibly stagnant at times as its players fell in the trap of watching its starting backcourt run pick-and-rolls and isolation sets.
The Wizards were in the game for most of the contest, but at some point the inability to manufacture great looks in the paint caught up with them, especially in the fourth quarter. That was mostly a product of their reliance on talent as opposed to sound strategy.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Washington ran this play on back-to-back possessions:
It’s a beautiful set play to free up the top shooter on the floor, and it’s also perhaps the only play the Wizards ran in the fourth quarter that had any semblance of success. The majority of the possessions tried to utilize Wall’s speed in the pick-and-roll to create good looks or exploit Beal’s one-on-one skills.
The problem with that?
Boston sat on Wall’s moves, went under screens and dared him to shoot from mid-range and deep. The Wizards point guard was 2-for-13 in the second half and 0-for-4 in the final period.
Still, with Beal scoring 24 second-half points, the Wizards still had a shot; but there was only so much the 2-guard could do.
In the end, Stevens beat Brooks.
Boston kept strategically pounding the rock, while Washington tried to throw stones at it.