It’s time to give Jayson Tatum the ball

NBA writers need new ideas. Miami shoots over 50% and steals a game from Boston? Derivative and predictable waste! Nonetheless, it was the story of Wednesday night, but there was an undercurrent of a B-plot beneath the surface. Even with Miami shooting 94% (rough estimate) on open 3s, they only scored 111 points. The Celtics on average more than 120 per game this season. The second game was there, but they didn’t do it.

If I had to guess, I’d say Erik Spoelstra is a huge Monty Python fan because he lives by the mantra “…and now for something completely different.” All we need is Udonis Haslem following him around with hollowed-out coconuts, banging them together to the rhythm of a trotting horse to really drive them home.

Miami helped the shooters in Game 1, throwing crowds at Jayson Tatum every time he prepared to attack, daring the Celtics to hit three-pointers. They did, a lot.

Miami adjusted in Game 2 and it took time for the Celtics to adjust. Help didn’t come and Miami changed everything and forced the Celtics to beat them in isolation or without the dribble.

Spo’s gamble worked. The C’s offensive rating (according to Cleaning the Glass) dropped from 129.5 in Game 1 (elite) to 108.6 in Game 2 (below average). I think this is partly solved by being more decisive and simply playing better (looking at you, KP), but there’s another adjustment staring the Celtics in the face: give the damn ball to Jayson Tatum.

But Mr. Spooner, Tatum leads the team by a huge margin. He already has the damn ball.

First please call me Wayne. Mr. Spooner was my father. Second, it’s not about the number of keys, but the type. In the first game, Tatum was able to catch, slide for help, and then kick out. In the second game, that strategy went out the window, over the hill, and eventually crashed into the side of a mountain a la Wile E. Coyote.

Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Tatum needs to be on the ball more often as the primary creator against this version of Miami’s defense. They change groups often and are reluctant to send help, meaning sometimes you just have to beat them one-on-one. From there, help will have to come, and you can then rotate the defense and use multiple drives and kicks or generate open threes.

Tatum’s dribbles per touch and seconds per touch are well below his season averages, which themselves were multi-year lows. He’s averaging 1.76 dribbles and 3.06 seconds per touch so far in the NBA playoffs, compared to 2.76 and 3.83 in the regular season. I’m not advocating that Tatum constantly dribbles air off the ball in isolation, but he needs to function more often as our primary ball handler until we can get the Heat off this switch (almost) all, helping a resistant defensive scheme. He can do this by running pick and roll.

Although he had a poor year as a pick and roll handler in the regular season, he is the third most effective pick and roll ball handler by synergy (including passes) in the playoffs. He eviscerates the Heat every time we put him in this action (just try not to look at who’s #1). There isn’t a single defender on their team who can control him in 1v1s other than Bam, and we can do that with a variety of screen setters against a variety of defenders. Sometimes this will turn into isolation, but that’s okay – he can go after guys like Nikola Jovic in iso (this play starts with a KP screen, but the NBA video just cut it off) .

You can go through everything on the floor and let him separate Miami with his passing as well.

Oh, and it even works against the zone.

It seems to me that Jayson Tatum seems by far the most comfortable of Boston’s ball handlers attacking whatever defense Miami throws at him. Jaylen was great in the second game, but deploying him as a finisher is the perfect formula. Someone must be able to break through a defense of change that can sometimes force you to isolate yourself. No one on the Celtics is more equipped for this than Jayson Tatum. Sometimes the Playoffs ask you to trust your star player and go from there, and Tatum delivers. Celtics in 5.

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