All Due Respect: Caleb Martin Makes Boston Pay While Jimmy Butler And Bam Adebayo Shoulder The Weight Of Island Life

The Boston Celtics needed somewhere to put Robert Williams.

Not in the sense that they had to hide Williams. Quite the opposite. They needed, they’ve always needed, somewhere to put Williams in order to maximize his defensive skillset. The only way to properly leverage one of the best help defenders in the league is to put him somewhere where he can help. Typically that means finding the weakest shooter on the other team.

On this particular night, Caleb Martin draws the short straw.

On this particular play, Bam Adebayo is posting up on the right side of the free-throw line. He takes a glance at the paint and sees Williams, one foot in one foot out, 20 feet away from Martin and ready to help on any attack. Adebayo sees this and immediately fires a pass to Martin, who wastes not in a second in putting the ball on the floor as Williams begins his long closeout. Barely a second later, he’s a step ahead of Williams as he’s jamming the ball through the rim.

That was 16 months ago. Miami got crushed that night, 122-92, with Jimmy Butler unavailable. But Martin, scoring 14 points – including a three, an isolation pull-up jumper and a transition score all over the top of or through Williams – offered a memory worth saving on an otherwise forgettable evening.

Make or miss, he was mad as hell – alright, maybe measured as limbo better fits his personality – and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.

A couple weeks later, Celtics color commentator Brian Scalabrine made a note of this to ESPN’s Zach Lowe in an appearance on The Lowe Post when discussing the otherwise historic run Boston’s defense was on.

“That was the only time I’ve ever seen this defense where I’m like, ‘Oh, that could be a problem,’” Scalabrine said.

Martin filed that game away. A few months later in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston put Williams on him again. With Martin banged up, struggling with his shot and in and out of the rotation at that point as a result, the strategy played out for the Celtics. Williams defended Martin for 11 touches in that series, more than any other player defended Martin all postseason, and the HEAT produced just 0.45 points-per-possession with that matchup on the board.

Notably, Martin was never passive. He still saw the matchup as an opportunity to drive the closeouts or shoot over the top. He didn’t win many of those possessions, but he never gave in and allowed Williams to roam free of consequence.

Fast forward to this season. In the Bahamas for training camp, Martin – having enjoyed one of the first offseasons of his career when he did not have to make major changes to his shooting mechanics – still has the coverages from the previous season, which included the Milwaukee Bucks trying the same tactic and giving up a career-high to Martin in the process, on his mind.

“I might take two or three attempts a game and guys would shrink off and allow me to shoot it even if I make them, thinking ‘Alright, we’ll live with two or three.’ But if I’m shooting five, six, seven, and I start making those, that’s a lot different.”

With Williams missing the start of the season and Boston generally using the two-big lineup with Al Horford less – the pair was never available in any of the four matchups – Martin only sees Williams for one lonely possession as his primary defender. What happens on that possession? Williams sags into the paint to help out on Adebayo and Martin drains a catch-and-shoot three. Williams doesn’t even try to contest.

“They did it last year, so it's almost like he's had 12 months to prepare for this,” Erik Spoelstra said Friday night. “You know, he has a lot of pride. He doesn't like being dis – whatever, you know.”

Spoelstra stops himself short of completing the word on the tip of his tongue, but the meaning is clear.

Jump ahead another few months. The HEAT are at home, having dispatched the New York Knicks in six games, waiting for the results of Game 7 between Boston and Philadelphia. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla notably makes a change to the starting lineup before Game 6, with his team down 3-2 in the series, and goes back to the two-big starting lineup. Martin watches, already thinking about what’s ahead of him – preparing for what’s ahead of him.

“I just knew from the jump, I automatically triggered my brain to last year and the playoffs and knew exactly how they were going to guard me,” Martin said. “So I've been preparing myself the minute we beat the Knicks and we were preparing for Boston. I just automatically started trying to re-circuit my brain to the looks I would get and how guys are going to help off of me and preparing to be ready and confident and assertive.”

Now it’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Everything Martin had imagined is playing out. In Game 1 Mazzulla had mostly kept Williams assigned to centers, but as he re-inserts Grant Williams into the rotation – someone they trust to both switch and defend centers – it frees up Rob Williams for other assignments.

A couple possessions pass without much of note happening. Martin catches on the wing and feeds Adebayo in the post, but as he cuts through the paint Williams stops short, lingering around the rim as Adebayo makes his move.

Spoelstra and Kyle Lowry take note of this. We know they do because a little over a minute later, Martin gets involved in the play, setting a screen for Lowry. It’s tough for a player to help off their mark and roam if they have to defend the primary action.

Martin wastes no time. Williams, for his part, closes to his man but Martin is already on the move as soon as he touches the ball.

Celtics Game 2: Caleb Attacks Rob Matchup

The actual finish is incredibly difficult. It might not even be a shot that Martin is going to convert at a high percentage, but since when has Shot Quality mattered to the HEAT during this postseason? Note the score, too, with Miami down 11 after having just surrendered a 21-2 run. Tough finish or not, Martin faces down his foe and cauterizes the wound.

“Everybody has a game plan or a scheme to follow. I get it,” Martin says. “When you're dealing with guys as good as Jimmy, Bam, guys that draw so much attention, you kind of have to pick your poison. I'm on the short end of the stick when it comes to that.

“But, you know, I welcome that”

Neither Martin, nor Spoelstra, let’s Williams off the hook after that. His coach putting him in position to succeed, running Williams through screens to keep him on the move, Martin is willing as ever to do the job.

Celtics Game 2: Martin Scoring Rob Matchup

Williams finished the game defending Martin for six touches, giving up 10 points – that’s 1.66 points per possession. For now, the jury is out on whether or not Boston tries the matchup again.

“One thing Caleb told me was, ‘This is not last year,’” Adebayo said. “That really resonated with me, because they did the same thing to him last year. I feel like he felt like it was disrespectful.”

All told, the tug-o-war with Williams was only part of Martin’s incredible evening, during which he scored a postseason career high 25 points on 16 shots, including 3-of-7 from three. He didn’t need a specific matchup to be successful. That’s been true all through this run when, like his teammates, he’s sought out ways to make a mark regardless of whether or not that means scoring. Game 2 just happened to be about points, Martin again stopping a run with a five-point burst in the third quarter as Miami was falling behind, then eating into yet another Boston double-digit lead at the start of the fourth quarter with two more scores, one of them a finish over a helping Williams at the rim.

In Game 3, it might be something else. With Martin, currently 9-of-15 in the paint and 4-of-8 on above-break threes against Boston, there’s always something else.

“He's not your traditional 3-and-D guy,” Spoelstra says. “He's a little unconventional, out of the box, so he can do a lot of different things.”

Two years ago Martin, waived by the Charlotte Hornets, took a chance on himself by accepting a two-way contract from a franchise known for developing players. Slowly but surely, he earned his way into the rotation and was rewarded with a new contract in free agency last summer. At that point, his future as an NBA player was secured but he wasn’t a known commodity, as a role player, in the same manner as previous HEAT rotation stars-in-their-roles. The 2022-23 season, whether he was starting at power forward or coming off the bench, was his chance to make a name for himself as one of the league’s premier glue guys – and not be mistaken for his twin, Cody.

Safe to say that now everyone is going to know his name.


There have been plenty of opportunities to discuss the exploits of Butler and Adebayo during this run and there will be plenty more. We don’t need to dwell on this too long, but we do need to take a minute for one of Boston’s main adjustments in Game 2.

Essentially, they stopped doubling and left their defenders out on islands with Miami’s best scorers.

In Game 1 pretty much all of Miami’s role players knew where their shots were going to come from with Boston sending extra – sometimes entirely unnecessary – defenders the way of the HEAT’s two primary engines.

“They were kind of expected,” Martin said of the shots the team got in Game 1. “The way we got them today, they’re coming to double, they’re overhelping from corners.”

The quickest way to raise the collective power level of a team’s role players to 9000 is to give them open, consistent, repeatable looks. Sure enough, the HEAT made over half their threes as they stiff-armed Boston to the finish line. The expectation for Game 2 was that Boston would trust their individual defenders and stay home more often on shooters.

That played out, and then some.

For Butler the result was 22 isolations, a gargantuan number that stands as the second-most in a game this postseason – behind James Harden – and a career-high for Butler in any game, playoffs or otherwise. That number makes sense. If you switch a ton and don’t help, you’re going to induce isolations. The strategy was working out for Boston through three period, with Butler producing just 0.66 points per direct isolation as he tried to carry the offensive burden.

Things flipped in closing time. Your mileage may vary on extra-curricular activities with Grant Williams, but fact is Butler scored nine points on eight isolations in the fourth quarter – 11 points off six Williams isolations across the entire game – as Miami made up another double-digit deficit to take the lead.

“I felt like in the fourth, it's all about getting a bucket,” Butler said when asked about Boston switching into single coverage. “Whether you're taking a contested shot, a wide-open shot, it's all about getting shots on goal.

“I can only tell y'all so many times how much confidence that my teammates put in me, the coaching staff puts in me to just go out there and hoop, play care-free and, as we like to say in our locker room, take us there.”

Adebayo’s evening was not nearly as prolific – though his seven total isolations tied for a postseason high with Game 1 against Boston – but he’s been plenty efficient, producing 17 points on 11 direct isolations for 1.27 points-per. Maybe he’s not putting up nightly 30-point efforts that some have (misguidedly) been clamoring for, but he’s rising to the moment all the same. If Boston is going to force Adebayo to be a scorer with single coverage, he’s shown himself to be more than game.

Celtics Game 2: Bam Island Isolations

“Spo gave me ultimate clarity, ‘Be you,’” Adebayo said. “For me, that's simple enough. He wants me to be aggressive and he wants me to score.”

All season long, this has been the theory of Spoelstra’s offensive changes. Boston flattened out Miami in the last Eastern Conference Finals, so Spoelstra reduced Adebayo’s shooter-prioritizing handoffs this year and pumped up his isolation opportunities to 7.9 per 100 possessions, a career high. The offense struggled without the requisite shooting during the regular season, but at the core of it all was the HEAT’s standing as the fourth-best isolation team in the league, per Second Spectrum. If they could score one-on-one, they could score in the playoffs. If the shooting ever came along to compliment that fundamental truth, they could score well enough to make a real run.

Well, here they are and here we are. This is nothing new for Butler, but now he’s been joined by Adebayo in living that island life. The offense that was theorized has become reality, and it has the HEAT two wins away from the NBA Finals.


-Miami all but abandoned their zone, using it just four times a game, in the Eastern Conference Finals last year as Boston generally picked it apart, but you might remember that it was a major factor when these teams met in 2019-20. The HEAT used zone 26.8 possessions a game in that series, holding the Celtics to 1.09 points-per. Through two games, the zone has been back with Spoelstra toggling into and out of it, using it on 14.2 possessions a game. In Game 2, Boston scored just 0.74 points-per against 31 zone possessions, 1.00 points-per in 17 fourth-quarter possessions.

-On a related note, Boston is scoring 1.21 points per possession in the half-court against Miami’s man-to-man defense in this series, with Jayson Tatum producing 2.00 points-per-isolation so far. Tatum may slow down, but with how much Boston has struggled with their shooting so far – flubbing a series of open looks against the zone – their efficiency against man-to-man so far is worth a yellow flag in the “Job’s not done” category.

-After 52 drives in Game 1, Boston had just 32 drives in Game 2 – but they scored 1.16 points-per-drive.  

-There continues to be a massive split in Shot Quality in this series, with Miami expected effective field-goal percentage coming in at 48.6 – which would Rank No. 30 – and Boston’s at 53.8, a number that would have led the entire league this season. This was entirely expected coming into the series given the variety of shooters and attackers on the other side, but it’s worth noting, nonetheless.

-Miami is shooting 16.2 mid-range jumpers per 100 possessions in this series, up from 11.5 in the regular season, and making over 51 percent on those shots, up from 41.9 percent in the regular season.

-Part of why the HEAT’s shooting turnaround has been so remarkable is that they aren’t doing it with generally higher-percentage corner looks. They shot 33 percent on longer above-the-break threes during the regular season and are now at 39.6 percent for the playoffs – plus an absurd 46 percent against only Milwaukee and Boston. The league leader on those shots, Golden State, shot 38.5 percent in those zones.