The Boston Celtics currently sit in third in the Eastern Conference, but opposing teams should look to knock them out of the playoffs with this blueprint.
The Boston Celtics are one of the Eastern Conference’s most talented all-around teams, and young players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will ensure that things stay that way for the foreseeable future. However, the team has some deficiencies that opponents could exploit in the playoffs.
Losing Al Horford last offseason was a crushing blow, and his presence will continue to be missed for a variety of reasons throughout the playoffs. His ability to lock down the paint was a critical counter against the likes of Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and one which the Celtics have failed to replace.
With Tatum earning star status in 2020, Boston certainly has a high ceiling. However, if they cannot avoid a few pitfalls and cover up weaknesses, opposing teams could have the blueprint to ensuring their early exit.
So how do you beat the Boston Celtics in a playoff series?
Exploit Enes Kanter on defense: Enes Kanter is a great rebounder and post-up man on the offensive end, but his defensive play leaves much to be desired. The veteran center plays fewer than 20 minutes per game, but exploiting him on the defensive end could deliver some easy points to opponents.
Kanter’s paint presence is a far cry from Al Horford‘s stalwart play, and gifted post-up men will almost definitely frustrate him. If the opposition can constantly attack him in his limited minutes, the Celtics could struggle to defend the paint.
Even if Brad Stevens decides that Kanter is unplayable, his rebounding will be missed. The big man leads the team in rebounds and is a force on the offensive glass, a major reason why he is in the rotation in the first place.
Daniel Theis is an adequate replacement, but Kanter will get playing time. When he does, opponents need to key in on him and take advantage of his presence for some easy points in the paint. For all of his contributions on the offensive end, he is a total liability on defense.
Limit offensive rebounds: The Celtics are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding teams (see: Enes Kanter) and they thrive off of second-chance opportunities. Crashing the defensive glass will be crucial for opponents, and teams like the Bucks, Clippers, and 76ers have the height and length to pull down defensive rebounds.
Once again, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid will be difficult matchups for the Celtics on the boards. Antetokounmpo is among the league’s top rebounders, and the Bucks are a likely matchup for the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
Theis and Kanter will be difficult to counter on the boards, but teams with length and athleticism can take away one of Boston’s best assets. Extra effort will absolutely be necessary, as the Celtics like to run and will scrap for rebounds.
However, in the playoffs, effort should not be an issue. With a title on the line, Eastern Conference teams will relentlessly crash the boards, and the Celtics will be forced to adjust accordingly. If opponents can take away second chances, Boston will have to make the most of its possessions, and scoring may come at more of a premium.
Treat Tatum, not Walker, as the alpha: Jayson Tatum established himself as a star in 2020, and while point guard Kemba Walker has had a more accomplished career, Tatum is the player that opposing defenses need to scheme around. The third-year forward improved in every major category, leading the Celtics in scoring before the league’s hiatus.
While Walker is assuredly talented, Tatum can beat his defender in more ways. His combination of size, handling ability, and shooting is difficult to guard, and at his best, the 22-year-old is unstoppable.
Whereas Walker’s playstyle is that of a more traditional scoring guard, Tatum’s inside-out game can give defenders fits. Giving him too much space on the perimeter likely means an easy 3-pointer, while face-guarding him opens up a blow-by opportunity.
Tatum is not afraid to attack the rim in traffic, either. The All-Star has been known to throw down contested dunks, so shutting him down take attention from all over the floor. However, teams that can frustrate Tatum can essentially take away Boston’s top scoring option and force the Celtics to run a less dynamic offense through Walker or Jaylen Brown.
While both players are immensely talented, Brown and Walker cannot replicate the element that Tatum brings to Brad Stevens’ attack. His play likely dictates Boston’s playoff ceiling, as he elevates all those around him when he is knocking down shots and distributing the ball. Therefore, dedicating extra resources to stopping him could go a long way in knocking Boston out of the playoffs.