The Boston Celtics have thrown multiple defensive looks at the Atlanta Hawks throughout the first four games of the series. Pick and roll coverage is an area where teams often like to mix things up. Boston found success in Games 3 & 4 and took advantage of Atlanta's shooting struggles.
Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder combined to go 7 for 31 from the field and that was after a pair of big threes by Teague late further padded those numbers. However, Boston is using two different strategies depending on which point guard is in the game.
Isaiah Thomas has drawn the defensive assignment more often than not against Schröder and Boston is giving him a lot of space to cut off his driving lane and to encourage him to shoot from the outside where he has struggled so far. On this play, you will see Thomas go under on a pair of Atlanta screeners negating a drive and giving Schröder plenty of room for a shot attempt.
As Schröder sets up the action, you can see Thomas is already giving ground to warrant off the drive and in anticipation of an incoming pick and roll.
Thomas goes way under the double screen set by Atlanta giving Schröder a lot of space but virtually no driving room. Notice that Boston has three other defenders in the paint ready to help on the drive.
This play is from earlier in the game but it is nearly identical. Thomas ducks under and emerges on the other side to close off any driving lanes for Schröder. As Dennis passes to Sefolosha on the wing, Thomas sinks deep into help position. If Dennis was shooting the ball with any confidence, then this is something that Boston just wouldn't be able to get away with.
So what is the answer for Schröder and the Hawks? The simple answer is to make a jump shot but with each miss, Dennis appears to be pressing just a bit more. Schröder needs to move the basketball with less dribbling and less hesitation. The Hawks need him to be aggressive, but he needs to focus on making plays for his teammates and let his offense take a backseat at least to start.
Schröder's shooting stroke has been a work in progress ever since he was drafted by Atlanta. He has shown improvement and finished the season at a respectable 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point range. Those numbers would have been higher before he fell off to 29 percent in March and sunk to just 23 percent in April. Below is Schröder's shot chart from the regular season. It probably doesn't strike fear in the hearts of a lot of opponents, but he still isn't someone that you could simply ignore from the perimeter.
Fast forward to the playoffs, however, and the shot chart paints a much different picture. Schröder is just 3 for 18 on shots outside the paint and is 1 for 12 from three-point range. The Celtics were left searching for answers after losses in Games 1 & 2. They have elected to give Dennis room on the perimeter and, to this point, he has been unable to make them pay.
Jeff Teague has had a more productive series against the Celtics, but has seen a sharp drop off in his shooting numbers. Through the first four games, Teague is shooting just 39 percent from the field and 22 percent from three-point range. However, Boston is giving him a much different look than what they are using against Schröder.
The Celtics have opted to use a bigger defender against Teague throughout the series. To negate Teague's speed advantage over that bigger defender, Boston has opted to switch on the pick and roll and while it hasn't necessarily stopped Atlanta's offense, it has broken things down into isolations which is not the way the Hawks like to approach things.
On this possession, Evan Turner draws the initial assignment against Teague. Jonas Jerebko picks him up on the switch. Teague recognizes and pulls the ball back out as Atlanta spaces the floor. Teague gets past Jerebko who recovers just enough to bother the shot and force a miss.
Similar setup here with Turner guarding Teague. Millsap sets a soft screen and the Celtics switch with Jared Sullinger taking Teague. This situation presents a pair of mismatches. Atlanta chooses not to go to Millsap who is now being guarded by Turner. Sullinger has virtually no chance of staying in front of Teague and sinks deep into the lane. Teague lets him off the hook by attempting a long three-pointer.
Atlanta was a combined 21 of 79 from three-point range in the Game 3 & 4 losses. The three-point shot is a critical part of Mike Budenholzer's spread the floor attack but Boston has encouraged them to settle and the Hawks took the bait much too often. Atlanta finished with a 52-44 edge in points in the paint in Game 3 but were outscored 52-40 in Game 4. Paul Millsap had a huge night with 45 points but Atlanta went away from him down the stretch and in overtime where they were 1 for 8 from three-point range.
Boston has shown throughout the series that driving to the basket can open up space along the perimeter. Space can turn mediocre shooters into league average or better shooters. The Hawks must get back on the attack and that starts with point guard play. Teague and Schröder can't settle in Game 5 if Atlanta hopes to pull out the win and take back the momentum in the series.