C's Have Plan of Attack for Facing Three Straight Elite Shot Blockers

PORTLAND – The Boston Celtics are smack-dab in the middle of their most challenging stretch of the season when it comes to facing elite shot blockers and finishing at the rim.

Boston tonight will face off against the Portland Trail Blazers, whose defense is anchored by the NBA’s leading shot blocker, Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside is averaging 3.1 blocks per game this season, which leads the league by a wide margin ahead of second-ranked Brook Lopez (2.5 BPG).

Tonight’s challenge comes two days after the Celtics faced Anthony Davis, who ranks third in the league in shot blocks per game, and one day before they’ll face Rudy Gobert, who ranks seventh in the league and is the reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year.

The Celtics acknowledged at Tuesday morning’s shootaround that the presence of those great shot blockers affects their approach at the rim.

“You can’t run in there, jump off one foot and hope,” said Brad Stevens, “because you’ll get that thing swatted away.”

Kemba Walker, who will miss his third straight game tonight with a sore left knee but who is known for attacking the rim, said that his teammates must be aware of their surroundings when they drive into the paint against Whiteside.

“When you go to the basket you have to know that he wants to come from the weak side and help his teammates and try to block your shots,” Walker said. “So a lot of the time, his man is open, or another guy is open because he’s coming and they have to rotate. So you’ve got to be conscious of basically getting into the paint and looking for your teammates.”

Walker also added that the C’s cannot allow themselves to be afraid to go at Whiteside tonight.

“You’ve got to attack him,” he said. “You just have to.”

That being said, Boston must also make quality decisions when it gets to the rim, a notion to which Stevens and Walker both alluded. They cannot afford to force shots, because that could cause them damage in more ways than one.

“The blocked shot is a problem for two reasons,” Stevens explained. “No. 1 is you don’t score, but No. 2 is it starts the (fast) break (for the opponent). So we need to be great about making the right decisions at the rim.”

The Celtics were sound in their decision making Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles while facing Davis and the Lakers. Boston scored 44 points in the paint during that game while allowing Los Angeles to block only four shots, two of which were by Davis. They also allowed the Lakers to score only 16 fast break points, which was nearly three below LA’s season average. The players who will be tied closest to Boston's success in these areas are Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum.

Their plan, and Boston's plan in general, is to duplicate their efforts from Sunday tonight against Whiteside, and again Wednesday night against Gobert. Doing so, however, is easier said than done.

Every team enters matchups with these big men with similar game plans to the one Boston described Tuesday morning. Yet still, Whiteside leads the league in blocks, and Gobert is again a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

This is unquestionably Boston’s most challenging stretch of the season when it comes to playing against elite shot blockers and finishing at the rim. The Celtics were successful in combatting such challenges during Round 1 in Los Angeles. We’ll find out tonight if they can do so again during Round 2 in Portland.

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