Celtics Aren’t Afraid of Adebayo


The Boston Celtics have made one thing abundantly clear: they are not scared of Bam Adebayo on offense.

Through Games 1 and 2 of the conference finals, the Heat big man has only been able to muster up 10 total field goal attempts. Oh, and he’s only taken six free throws.

If that doesn’t send shivers down your spine, maybe this next stat will. After compiling a 25% usage rate during the regular season, Adebayo’s usage rate now sits at just 10.4% after two ECF games. His current series stat line reads as follows: 8.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on five field-goal attempts per game.

Amidst plenty of griping from #HeatTwitter over the last 72 hours, this developing situation has rightfully raised a few questions (and eyebrows):

  • How does an All-Star caliber player disappear when it matters most?
  • Is this an indictment on Bam or a credit to an elite Boston defense?

All fair questions. The answer, though, is a little more complex.

Let’s take a closer look at the data to see how Boston has been able to essentially neutralize the Heat star on offense.

Boston: A Switching Machine

While it’s easy to simply look at a box score and point the finger, it’s a generally lazy way to form an opinion. Yes, Bam has lacked aggressiveness on offense, but Boston’s defensive gameplan has been stellar. It’s disrespectful to ignore that.

Boston has switched on ball screens more than any team this postseason. Why? Because they can.

They are long, tall, and their starting five possess no real weakness defensively when they are healthy. It’s no coincidence that Jimmy Butler was able to hunt Payton Pritchard and Derrick White in Game 1 with Marcus Smart and Al Horford unable to play.

It was a different story when both guys returned for Game 2.

Per Second Spectrum, Boston switched a total of 13 pick-and-rolls in the first half of Game 2. This allowed Miami ample opportunity to find Bam with a smaller defender on him. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter. Rather than punishing smaller defenders that switched onto him, he settled for tough shots and rarely attacked the basket. Miami scored a total of TWO points when facing a Boston switch in the first half.

The Celtics’ propensity to switch matters because the central part of Miami’s offense is the utilization of the pick-and-roll with Adebayo. Whether using him as the screener on a simple ball screen or facilitating designated handoffs at the top of the key, Boston aims to get Bam rolling to the basket. If his defender stays in drop coverage after the screen, Miami has two high-percentage options: the ball handler can either step into a pullup jump shot or attack the rim and look for the lob to Bam. If the defense decides to switch the screen, the Heat are then gifted a mismatch (or one would like to think so).

Example 1

Take a look at this possession when the 6’6″ Jaylen Brown was switched onto him earlier in the game. Instead of establishing the tone early and baptizing Brown in the paint, Bam settled for a low percentage fadeaway jump shot. That’s not his game.


Example 2

A similar situation took place later in the first half. This time with Grant Williams defending.


It’s clear that Boston isn’t intimidated by Bam offensively. That has to change if Miami has any desire to win this series.

What to Expect in Game 3?

There’s no way around it– Miami’s performance in Game 2 was abysmal. It exceeded “throw the whole game away” status.

But it’s important to note that no one believed this series would be a walk in the park for either team. Boston has sported the second-best defensive rating during the playoffs for a reason. Not to mention they have the league’s Defensive Player of the Year on their roster. A tremendous amount of credit should be given to Ime Udoka and the Celtics coaching staff.

All of that aside, Game 3 is a legacy game for Adebayo.

The Heat paid him handsomely and this is where he earns it.

The 24-year-old center from Pinetown, North Carolina holds the key to unlocking Miami’s offense, and it’s up to him to earn Boston’s respect.

About Alex Burns

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