For the second straight series, the Boston Celtics are heading into a do-or-die Game 7 scenario.
After ousting the Milwaukee Bucks on their home court in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, they will now have to head down to Florida to try to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
But lets focus on the positives; the season is not over yet, contrary to what many folks have said, and the Celtics still have a great opportunity in front of them with Game 7 tonight.
It’s clear, though, that some work needs to be done if they intend on sending the Heat home for the offseason tonight. The Celtics frustratingly reverted back to their sloppy habits from earlier in this series, and that was all Miami needed to stave off elimination in Game 6.
Boston hasn’t lost two games in a row throughout this postseason, and their habit of bouncing back after tough losses has been an example of their resiliency, but it’s being put to the ultimate test right now. There is a quick fix, however, that could help make things easier for them on a night where they are going to have to earn every basket they can get.
The Boston Celtics need to have Jayson Tatum guard Jimmy Butler at all times
Easily the most frustrating part of Game 6 for Boston Celtics fans was Jimmy Butler. He got some help along the way, but without his 47 point, nine rebound, eight assist masterpiece on Friday night, the Heat would already be on vacation.
Boston didn’t really make his life too hard; in fact, they spent most of the night treating Butler like a normal player. He admittedly looked quite pedestrian in the previous three games of the series, during which he only combined for 27 points, but he came out a completely different player with his season on the line.
The Boston Celtics began slacking off on Butler in Game 5 when it was clear his knee injury was hampering his play. He was struggling to hit his jumpers, and just couldn’t find his way to the rim. Boston implemented the same plan on Butler in Game 6, and he made them pay early and often.
Ime Udoka also couldn’t seem to figure out who he wanted to guard Butler throughout the game. It was a rotating cast of players, and nobody really seemed to have much success.
Al Horford and Grant Williams are fantastic defenders, but Butler is just too elusive for both of them once he reaches the paint. Marcus Smart is not 100 percent healthy right now, and that’s making it difficult for him to stay on Butler. And Jaylen Brown typically ended up committing some sort of foul whenever he found himself on Butler.
The one guy who has had success guarding Butler is none other than Jayson Tatum. Tatum has spent most of this series guarding Kyle Lowry for whatever reason, and Lowry finally started hitting open jumpers in Game 6. Tatum isn’t really cut out for sticking with Lowry around Bam Adebayo screens on the perimeter, and Lowry turned it into 18 points.
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Tatum has the blend of strength and speed that Butler is using to get whatever looks he wants right now. Butler is cooking whoever is on him, and if help slides into the paint, he’s just kicking it out to the perimeter for threes. Sometimes it works (Game 6), sometimes it doesn’t (Game 5). The time for taking chances is over though; this is a win or go home situation now.
If Tatum can stick with Butler in half-court settings, that takes away the only source of offense Miami has that isn’t fastbreak or transition scoring. Butler knew Boston would help if he got by his defender, so if he didn’t have the look, he knew someone else would. If Tatum sticks with Butler though, there’s no reason to help, and Butler is going to have to find a new way to score.
Butler can win games on his own, but it feels like it’s almost more important to limit his supporting cast at this point. The easiest way to do that, though, is to slow down Butler, because he is Miami’s lone source of offense in this series since Adebayo has really only been used as a screener at the perimeter.
The Boston Celtics have done a great job of limiting Adebayo in the paint, but they need to figure out their perimeter game at this point. Putting Smart on an equally injured Lowry to start the game makes the most sense. Even if he struggles, Derrick White, who has been phenomenal as of late, is more than capable of sticking with Lowry or any of Miami’s other perimeter players.
Miami needed a lot to go right for them in Game 6 after pretty much everything went wrong for them in Game 5. Chances are Butler isn’t going to score 47 points again (fingers crossed). It also wouldn’t be wise to bank on Miami shooting over 40 percent on threes after they failed to do so in any of the previous five games of this series.
But in Game 7s, all cards are on the table, and that’s the most nerve-racking piece of the puzzle. There’s nothing ruling out a solid Miami performance, and if it happens, it probably means Boston’s title hopes will come crashing down in front of them.
Sticking Tatum on Butler defensively helps decrease the potential for such a scenario. Tatum spent most of the first two series clamping Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo; now it’s time to let him and Butler battle for a chance to make it to the Finals. If he can limit Butler offensively, Boston will have a shot at winning this monumental Game 7.