The Celtics have had more success against the league’s top two teams, the Warriors and Cavs, than just about anyone else. We saw this on display again last night, as the C’s held the Durant-less Warriors to a season low 86 points, allowing only 14 in the fourth.
The Celtics’ defense was absolutely remarkable. The Thomas, Smart, Bradley, Crowder, Horford group seems to be the perfect lineup to throw at a team like the Warriors that relies on their guards for scoring while also playing small.
Horford brings enough defensive ability in the paint to clog up the lane, while also spreading the floor on the other end.
Smart, Bradley and Crowder as a perimeter trio will keep any backcourt in check, as they did last night holding the Warriors to only 20% shooting from 3-pt range. These three guys seem to be the ideal compliment to Isaiah Thomas, both offensively and defensively.
The Celtics fourth quarter approach this season has been no secret to anyone: get Isaiah the ball and let him make a play. Bradley and Crowder are perfect guys to play with Thomas, as they can help hide his defensive woes, while being solid knockdown shooters for the drive-and-kick opportunities Isaiah can create. We saw this not only last night but also last week against the Cavs.
It is pretty simple to understand why Crowder is getting these open looks late in games; Once Isaiah gets a one-on-one matchup, Crowder’s defender has to linger off in order to help, and Isaiah is able to use his playmaking ability to find the open man once the defense collapses on him. The dagger three late in games has become a staple of the Celtic’s fourth quarter offense, and will continue to be as long as Isaiah Thomas continues his fourth quarter success.
An intersting wrinkle in the Celtic’s season has been the fact that despite their success vs the Warriors and Cavs, they’ve struggled against the other contending teams in the East, such as the Raptors and Hawks.
This is because they can’t play Thomas, Smart, Bradley, Crowder and Horford lineup against these two teams. They give up too much physicality and rebounding down low. Yow saw this when they played in Toronto after the All-Star break, as the C’s failed to close out possessions late because of their lack of rebounders on the court.
An underrated storyline of the trade deadline was how the Celtics failed to address this paritcular issue. Acquiring a guy like Nerlens Noel, who ultimately was stolen from Philly by Dallas, would’ve helped the C’s in a number of ways.
Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko are solid role players (maybe being a little generous with that statement), but the C’s really need an “adult” to pair with Horford in crunch time.
Yes, the Celtics can compete with teams who go small late in games, like the Cavs and Warriors, but when they ultimately have to face a team like Toronto in the second round, it is going to be a tough task to get to the conference finals when Amir Johnson is the guy you throw down low when the game gets physical.