The Celtics absolutely cannot live and die by the 3-pointer next season

Tomase: Celtics’ one-dimensional offense finally made them against Heat originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

A play in Monday’s disastrous Game 7 crystallized exactly why the Celtics’ offense needs to change.

Al Horford took a pass down the hall against the Miami zone and no one challenged him. The Heat stayed home on Boston’s 3-point shooters, leaving Horford twirling helplessly in search of a target while getting dangerously close to a three-second violation. The visual was absurd: a 6-foot-9 All-Star virtually unguarded 10 feet from the basket and not even thinking about scoring. The game broke down and the Celtics got nothing.

There were too many during the playoffs, and Brad Stevens’ main job this summer will be to decide if the Celtics can just roll back Joe Mazzulla’s predictable system, which the Heat exploited throughout the Conference Finals. East.

Celtics Talk POSTGAME POD: Celtics can’t complete 0-3 comeback in frustrating Game 7 loss | Listen and subscribe

In fact, one of the best soundbites of the entire series came in Game 2, when Miami coach Erik Spoelstra encouraged his team to resist a run from Boston saying, “If they don’t don’t make 3s, they can’t win.”

He is right, and it is wrong. The Celtics shouldn’t be so one-dimensional, and Mazzulla’s emphatic ‘no’ when asked if the Celtics relied too much on scoring beyond the arc didn’t seem like the best frame of mind growing, but let’s hope he reconsiders when the heat of the moment cools.

In the meantime, we lament what might have been. There’s so much talent on the Celtics that they nearly pulled off the incredible comeback from a 3-0 deficit anyway, but their over-reliance on the 3-pointer ultimately doomed them. They won Game 6 despite shooting 7 for 35, and they lost Game 7 in a hail of clangs, finishing 9 for 42.

Missed Opportunities

Celtics 3-point percentage in the East Final


The Heat’s 3-point percentage in the Eastern Finals




The approach so disgusted TNT analyst Charles Barkley that he castigated their offense as unassailable, and not for the first time in these playoffs. Even at their best, the Celtics don’t move a ton, but when their offense buzzes, they whip the ball around until they find an open 3. If those shots start to fall, transition play follows, and then it’s on to the races.

The contrast between Miami’s diverse offense and Boston’s laborious one proved decisive. The Heat looked for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the position and then let them deal, or they punished the Celtics for ducking under the pick and roll with 3s from, well, pretty much everyone on the roster, especially the unstoppable force global superstar Caleb Martin.

The Celtics, by comparison, only intermittently attacked the paint against the Miami area, trying unsuccessfully to free shooters who were covered on the perimeter.

Their other option, especially once Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on Boston’s first possession, was to let Jaylen Brown create the dribble, which proved disastrous. Brown has recorded as many turnovers (eight) as he has field goals — most of the unforced variety — and the Celtics need to wipe those possessions off their playbook when Brown decides to go one-on-five.

This Brogdon quote sums up why the Celtics aren’t back to the NBA Finals

They also need to expand their attack, which doesn’t even mean minimizing the 3 that is now ubiquitous in everyone’s attack. The Warriors, after all, are the greatest shooting team of all time, and yet, at the height of their powers, they probably led the league in backdoor layups. The Celtics have rarely found ways to make defenses pay for the extension, and it hurts to see them keep throwing contested 3s as Monday’s final slipped away.

What makes this all the more frustrating is that we could see it coming in October. The undefeated Celtics traveled to Chicago for their fourth game of the season and took a 12-0, 35-16 lead while making eight of their first 11 3-pointers. They were having a blast kicking the Bulls out of their house.

Then they turned icy, missing 27 of their last 37 from deep without ever adapting, and the Bulls clinched an 18-point victory. What looked like a one-off was actually a harbinger.

When you live and die by the 3, life can be spectacular, but death is quick. And as we now know, it is final.

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