Boston Celtics: The fix to the mistake that nearly cost the C’s Game 1

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics are gearing up for Game 2 of their tightly contested series against the Brooklyn Nets.

While their Game 1 win at the buzzer thanks to a nifty layup from Jayson Tatum is nice, in the end, it is just one win. There’s still a lot of work left to be done.

What Tatum’s game-winner overshadows was a collapse in the fourth quarter that very nearly lost the game for Boston. After building up a 15 point lead in the third quarter, the Nets rallied all the way back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Obviously you can’t expect to hold down Brooklyn’s offense for a full 48 minutes, but throwing away a double digit lead is never encouraging.

However, there is an easy fix to the one huge mistake that nearly put Boston in an early 0-1 hole against Brooklyn, and his name is Marcus Smart. Officially crowned the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year yesterday afternoon, Smart’s defensive presence was a huge part in slowing down the Nets for most of the first three quarters, and he’s going to be key in continuing to keep the Nets at bay throughout this series.

The Boston Celtics need to leave Marcus Smart on Kyrie Irving at all times

The main issue for the Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game 1 was Kyrie Irving. He scored 18 of his 39 points in the final frame, and generally got whatever shots he wanted. The main reason he was able to score with such ease though, is because Smart was taken off of him for whatever reason, and it very nearly cost Boston the game.

Early on in the fourth, the duo of Payton Pritchard and Derrick White were on the court, and they both gave Irving way too much space at the perimeter, which he turned into back-to-back three point makes to force a Boston timeout. Smart quickly re-entered the game, but he was curiously not tasked with guarding Irving.

To start, it was Tatum who found himself on Irving, and Irving quickly blew right past him for a pair of easy layups. Later on, Jaylen Brown found himself on Irving, and didn’t have much success either, watching Irving bury another pair of three pointers. Meanwhile, Smart was left in the corner watching Bruce Brown, who finished the game with five points.

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It wasn’t until the last defensive possession of the game for the Boston Celtics that Smart was put back on Irving, and it wasn’t really surprising to see they ended up getting a stop. In a play Celtics fans have seen a million times now, Smart doubled teamed Irving with Al Horford, forcing him to pass out to Kevin Durant, who forced up a heavily contested step-back three with Tatum in his face. He missed, and 12 seconds later Boston had won the game.

It seems like common sense, but apparently it isn’t; Smart has to be left on Irving anytime the two are on the court together. Irving was getting whatever he wanted because nobody else on Boston was providing him with any sort of resistance. He was shooting over White, Brown, and Pritchard, and whenever he found himself against Tatum, he just ran right around him. Smart is the league’s DPOY; his talents should not be wasted on Bruce Brown.

It’s a very easy fix, as Ime Udoka just has to go back to the defensive alignment he was in the rest of the game. Boston has the pieces to slow down Brooklyn’s offense. Heck, they did it for the first three quarters of the game. But when those pieces get misplaced, the Nets are going to make you pay like they did in the fourth quarter.

Tatum is the perfect guy to guard Durant, but when he finds himself on Irving, it typically isn’t going to end well. Likewise, Brown is the perfect candidate to float around on defense and make plays as he sees fit. But if you leave him on Durant or Irving for too long, he’s going to get burned eventually.

Next. Theis and Williams are going to have to step up for the C's. dark

Just as those guys have tasks that are perfect for them, Smart needs to be stuck on Irving’s hip the rest of the series. He has the speed and strength necessary to stay with Irving on his drives to the hoop. He also has the length to at least contest Irving’s threes and make his life more difficult.

That’s the key to this series; the Boston Celtics have to make life as difficult as possible for Irving and Durant this series. The more energy they expend on offense, the better off the C’s are.

Smart was making Irving earn all of his points prior to the fourth quarter, and with the game on the line, he forced the ball out of his hands. Udoka tried to get cute in the fourth, and it nearly cost him. Here’s hoping he doesn’t make the same mistake twice.