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It’s time to give the ball to Jayson Tatum

The NBA script writers need new ideas. Miami shoots over 50% and steals a game in Boston? Derivative, predictable junk! Nonetheless, that is the story of Wednesday night, but there was an undercurrent of a B plot below the surface. Even with Miami shooting 94% (rough estimate) on open 3s, they only scored 111 points. The Celtics averaged over 120 per game this season. Game 2 was there for the taking, and they didn’t do it.

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

Miami helped hard off shooters in Game 1, throwing crowds at Jayson Tatum every time he loaded up to attack, daring the Celtics to hit threes. They did, a lot.

Miami adjusted in Game 2, and the Celtics were slow to adapt. Help didn’t come and Miami switched everything and forced the Celtics to beat them in isolation or off the dribble.

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

But Mr. Spooner, Tatum leads the team in touches by a massive margin. He’s already getting the damn ball.

First, please call me Wayne. Mr. Spooner was my father. Second, it’s not about the number of touches, it’s about the type. In Game 1, Tatum was able to catch, drag help, and then kick out. In Game 2, that strategy went out the window, over the hill, and finally crashed into the side of a mountain a la Wile E. Coyote.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game One

Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Tatum needs to be on the ball as the primary creator more often against this version of Miami’s defense. They’re switching often and are loathe to send help, which means sometimes you just need to beat them one-on-one. From there, help will have to come, and then you can get the defense rotating and use multiple drive and kicks or generate open threes.

Tatum’s dribbles per touch and seconds per touch are well below his season averages, which were themselves a several years low. He’s averaging 1.76 dribbles and 3.06 seconds per touch so far in the NBA Playoffs, down from 2.76 and 3.83 in the regular season. I’m not advocating for Tatum to endlessly dribble the air out of the ball in isolation, but he needs to function as our primary ballhandler more often until we can get the Heat out of this switch (almost) everything, help resistant defensive scheme. He can do it by running pick and roll.

Although he had a down year as a pick and roll handler in the regular season, he’s the third most efficient pick and roll ballhandler per Synergy (including passes) in the playoffs. He’s eviscerating the Heat every time we put him into that action (just try not to look at who is #1). There isn’t a single defender on their team that can check him 1-on-1 other than Bam, and we can run it with a variety of screen setters against a variety of defenders. Sometimes it will devolve into an isolation, but that’s fine — he can go after guys like Nikola Jovic in iso (this play starts with a KP screen, but NBA’s video just cut it off).

You can run it all over the floor and let him pick apart Miami with his passing, too.

Oh, and it even works against zone.

It just seems to me that Jayson Tatum looks by far the most comfortable of Boston’s ball handlers attacking whatever defense Miami throws at him. Jaylen was great in Game 2 but deploying him as a finisher is the perfect formula. Someone needs to be able to break down a switching defense than can, at times, force you into isolation possessions. No one on the Celtics is more equipped to do that than Jayson Tatum. Sometimes the Playoffs call for you to trust your star player and go from there, and Tatum is up to the task. Celtics in 5.

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