Game one of the Eastern Conference Finals is in the books, the most obvious difference between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers was the two Es; Effort and Execution. It was staggering to watch how different the two teams with similar defensive game plans looked on that end. The Celtics defense was in complete sync all game and rarely made a defensive an error while the Cleveland Cavaliers rarely strung together multiple stops in the game and that led to the massive game one blowout.
Watching the game film, it appeared at times as a series of do and don’t clips. The Cavs
and Celtics tried to do similar things on the defensive ends it just looked very different. The Cavs were switching on every ball screen early, which led to George Hill switched onto Marcus Morris who immediately went down into the post. JR Smith can see clearly the situation, he should come over as the ball is in the air to help Hill…he did not.
Here is almost the same situation where the Celtics’ Terry Rozier was fronting on Kevin Love; Jayson Tatum is already in help-side position. When the ball went to Love, he immediately comes over and Rozier switches out to the weakside corner, it is almost as if they planned it.
The Celtics did this all game, on almost consecutive possessions; first Rozier switched onto LeBron and hands him off to Tatum as LeBron is heading to the post. As he fronts James, Jaylen Brown is already sliding over into help position and use his 2.9 (the amount of time Brown can stay in the paint before getting called for a defensive technical) which discouraged Smith from making that pass over the top. This is a great example of prevention of a fire instead of trying to put one out after it starts.
The next possession the Celtics are in a similar situation again, this time Rozier doesn’t have the opportunity to hand LeBron off to Tatum. The Cavs immediately pass the ball to take advantage of the mismatch. On the flight of the pass, Brown is immediately on his way to double despite guarding one of the Cavs best shooters in Kyle Korver. Brown arrives with high hands and forces a turnover. A small note, as Brown went to double Marcus Morris is on his way to take Korver that is the type of sync GREAT defensive teams have.
The Cavs’ struggles on defense have been well documented but effort and execution have been a constant fixture. Here are two examples of their lack of the two Es killing them. The Cavs Love and Rodney Hood are trapping Marcus Smart in a pick-and-roll, Smart hit Al Horford with a pass. The proper rotation would be LeBron taking Horford, with Korver running to take Brown and Love sprinting to the weakside to take Semi Ojeleye. Instead, no one reacts and Horford drilled a wide-open three.
In the next example the Cavs commit two to the ball again in the pick-and-roll, as Rozier finds Horford popping for a three, Korver leaves Brown in the corner to cover for Love, while Love begins to sprint to the corner to take Brown. Korver jumped at a pass fake and as Horford drove down the lane for a layup while LeBron is late to help (granted with his athleticism he could get the block).
Teams try to stay out of defensive rotations because they are difficult but in the way the NBA is now, it is pretty much impossible. Defensive rotations require a ton of effort, it is more than just closing out or scrambling one time but it can require one player to make multiple efforts. It also requires precise execution to scramble out of defensive rotations. It was clear in game one the Celtics had the two Es and the Cavs did not.
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- Photo Credit – NBA.com
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