As it presently appears among the Eastern Conference field, the Celtics will have to overcome, among others, a healthier Milwaukee, an allegedly drama-reduced (for now) Brooklyn, a star-jolted Cleveland bunch and a more experienced Philadelphia to again reach the NBA Finals.
According to one source who offered detail, the Celts will also have to overcome themselves.
A casual conversation had veered toward the Celtics’ Finals loss to Golden State when the scout and former coach paused and decided to unburden himself. He found it hard to understand what he saw as self-inflicted wounds caused by overworking some of their parts — either by instinct or design.
“I just don’t get it,” he told Heavy Sports. “(Jayson) Tatum was wearing himself out when he didn’t need to. What happened to them in The Finals is no different than what happened to them early in the season and even when they were playing well late in the season and they lost some playoff games. It was a problem for them all year. They were just good enough defensively to overcome some of their bad offense.”
‘They’re So Much Better When That Team Moves the Ball’
It’s been written here often that Tatum and Jaylen Brown should have the ball as much as possible, but are more successful when they avoid over-dribbling into crowds and, rather, get the ball in better positions to finish.
“You’re talking about two of the better players in the league, and they’re so much better when that team moves the ball and gets it to them where they can really do damage,” he said. “And that’s what they do in the first three quarters of a lot of games. They’ve learned to get better at it. But they revert to the habits because of fatigue, because of the way the defense is playing them. Sometimes teams are denying much harder.”
“And when you look at the fatigue thing,” he went on, “I don’t see why Jayson Tatum has to bring the ball up the court against pressure. Like why is he bringing the ball up the court and expending so much energy on that? You’ve got (Marcus) Smart and Derrick White and (Payton) Pritchard, guys who can easily get the ball up and get you into your offense. And Jayson Tatum’s dribbling it up the court and he’s exhausted. I don’t get that.
“I think it’s by habit, but it should not be happening. He should be running the court and resting or jogging up the court and getting it later in the clock, refreshed and ready to do something, instead of using the first 10 seconds of the clock getting it into the offense. That’s exhausting to guys, and you can see it.”
Tatum’s Finals 4th Quarters Were a Disaster
While Brown had some strong fourth quarters in the Finals, Tatum, according to StatMuse, averaged 3 points on 24%% shooting in the six final periods against the Warriors.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said the source. “I had guys that wanted to take it on themselves to do everything — every coach has. But you can’t let them. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for the team. With Boston, those guys don’t need to be worn down, because they have guys that are really good at pushing the pace. And yet those guys don’t have the ball most of the time because those other guys get the rebound and walk into the offense.
“So it’s taking away from what the role players do well, and it’s taking away from what your best players should be doing. They should be using their energy in the ways that can help you most, not getting tired doing a job that other people can do and are better at.”
From his position now on the personnel side of things, the source acknowledged that a team’s general style of play factors into the issue. But he added that Ime Udoka took over as Celtic coach wanting to improve the club’s ball movement and assist numbers.
“I think Ime’s good with that stuff, and I think they’ll be better with it this year,” he said. “But it can be hard when you’re dealing with really good players. It not that they’re choosing to snub their teammates; it’s that they have more faith in themselves. The team doesn’t really run a motion offense like the Warriors do. I mean, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, (Jordan) Poole — those guys have played without the ball in their hands. They need very few dribbles to get shots, because they’re just constant motion.
“That’s not Jaylen or Jayson. They’re the opposite. They’ve had the ball in their hands most of their lives, like a lot of great players. LeBron doesn’t move without the ball very much. He has the ball in his hands, and he makes plays.
“The Boston guys can make plays because they’re just that frickin’ good. But it’s going to be even harder for them to get back to the Finals this year. And if they want to get back and even win it, they’re going to have to be smarter and stop making things tough on themselves when they don’t have to.”