NBA

Celtics could change starting lineup to avoid first quarter issues against Wizards

Jay Asser 6/05/2017
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Time for a change: Marcus Smart. Picture: Getty Images.

First quarters have been a constant problem for the Boston Celtics against the Washington Wizards.

Though Boston overcame sluggish starts at home in the first two games of the second round series, their propensity to fall behind early finally derailed their chances in Game 3’s 116-89 blowout loss.

Through the three contests, the Celtics have been down by an average of 16.3 points at the end of first quarters. It hasn’t been an issue isolated to the playoffs either as Boston trailed by 8.0 points per game following first periods in the four regular-season match-ups with Washington as well.

The Wizards’ starting lineup has been dominant all season and has continued to create separation in the playoffs at plus-8.7, but the Celtics have failed to adjust accordingly with their starting five.

Gerald Green as the fifth starter failed in the series opener and Game 3, while Boston didn’t fare much better with Amir Johnson in his place in Game 2.

Coach Brad Stevens could shake up the unit again in Game 4 tonight in an attempt to find a lineup that can keep the Celtics from falling into an early hole.

His best bet may be inserting guard Marcus Smart alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Though Smart offers necessary playmaking off the bench and is a large part of the advantage Boston’s reserves hold over Washington, that five-man group has been one of the Celtics’ most effective – and second-most used – in the series.

With that lineup, Boston are holding the Wizards to 100.9 points per possession for a 3.2 net rating, while being plus-7 in total.

If not Smart, another option could be Kelly Olynyk, with him and the regular starters boasting a plus-42.1 net rating in a limited seven minutes.

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NBA

Spurs have turned their offence into defence against Rockets

Jay Asser 6/05/2017
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Finding his groove: LaMarcus Aldridge. Picture: Getty Images.

Offence has been the best defence for the San Antonio Spurs in slowing down the Houston Rockets’ high-octane attack and gaining control of the second round series.

After getting hammered in a 27-point loss in Game 1, the Spurs have turned it around by focusing as much on scoring efficiently as they have on limiting James Harden and Co.

The adjustments have clearly worked, with San Antonio evening the series through a lopsided 121-96 win in Game 2 before taking the lead with a 103-92 victory in Game 3 on Friday.

Not by coincidence, the Spurs’ surge has aligned with LaMarcus Aldridge finding his rhythm as the big man has improved his scoring output from 4 points in the opener, to 15 in Game 2 and 26 in the recent outing. His shot attempts have also gradually increased from seven to 15 to 20, while his defence has allowed coach Gregg Popovich to leave him on the floor longer.

Houston shot 13-of-26 when Aldridge served as the primary defender in the first two games, but that figure dropped to just 3-of-14 in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“This was his best game, obviously,” Popovich said. “He felt good tonight. He was loose as far as his physical nature, his legs and everything. He wasn’t too stiff. It showed. He moved up and down the court well. He was able to push off on the block, and he felt good shooting the ball, in addition to busting his butt on D and trying to get the boards for us. He was a big help tonight.”

The Rockets’ blueprint for success was on full display in Game 1, when they shot 22-of-50 from long range and had 27 fast break points.

Houston has struggled to replicate that kind of performance ever since as San Antonio have tightened their offence to shoot 49.7 per cent overall and 36.7 per cent on 3-pointers over the past two games.

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The increased efficiency has left few chances for the Rockets to get out and run after misses, lowering their fast break points to 13 in Game 2 and 9 in the most recent contest.

“It sounds kind of counterintuitive, but it’s not really about defence,” Popovich said about defending the Rockets in transition. “It’s really about offense. Bad offense leads to transition.

“If you’re making shots, if you’re shooting free throws, there’s not a whole lot of transition you have to worry about.”

Houston have also flat-out missed open shots, converting just 19-of-67 uncontested field goals (28.3 per cent) in their losses.

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Warriors nearly unstoppable when Draymond Green shoots this well

Jay Asser 5/05/2017
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Green light from outside: Draymond Green. Picture: Getty Images.

As dominant as they already are, the Golden State Warriors’ invincibility is taken to a new level when Draymond Green is turning his biggest weakness into a strength.

Green has been red-hot shooting 3-pointers and his confidence in his range was on full display in the Golden State Warriors’ 115-104 win over the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena on Thursday.

The all-encompassing forward nailed 5-of-8 from long range to score 21 points, while also doing his customary stat-stuffing with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.

“We love that shot. It gives us a huge lift,” Stephen Curry said of his team-mate’s aggressiveness from deep. “Hopefully that jumper travels when we go to Utah because those shots will be open.”

Green made 2-of-5 triples in Game 1 of the series and has hit 18-of-33 in the playoffs overall for a percentage of 54.5, the best among all players in the postseason who’ve attempted at least 20 shots.

All but three of his 33 attempts from beyond the arc have been uncontested looks, with Green converting 18-of-30.

It’s no surprise the Jazz have chosen to give Green space and instead diverted their defenders to greater offensive threats like Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Green, who is a career 33.4 per cent 3-point shooter, has taken full advantage of the strategy.

“Obviously [Utah’s] gameplan is to have whoever’s guarding Draymond sit in the lane,” Golden State coach Mike Brown said.

Even when Green’s not making 3s at his current rate, the Warriors benefit from him knocking it down at a near-average percentage. In the regular season, he hit at 32.4 per cent in the 64 wins, compared to 24.0 per cent in the 14 losses.

With Utah and future opponents likely to continue daring him to beat them from outside, the opportunities will be there for Green in Game 3 and going forward. “I feel particularly open every game we play,” he said. “So, yeah, I do. I’m pretty sure I’ll stay particularly open. That probably won’t change.”

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