Forsberg: C's need to make teams pay for Jayson Tatum attention


The Celtics-Mavericks matchup on Sunday essentially boiled down to how two young superstars and two very similar teams handled double teams.

Jayson Tatum did this: 

…and Luka Doncic did this: 

Mavericks 95, Celtics 92.

OK, that’s oversimplifying things a little too much -- Boston’s defense took a third-quarter snooze while the team kicked away a 13-point lead -- but each side’s late-game execution against the double was magnified.

Watch how calm Doncic is on that late drive. He practically studies each of his outlets and sizes up Al Horford before pitching to Spencer Dinwiddie for the winning triple. 

Tatum, who has been outstanding in picking apart doubles at times over the past few weeks, was simply not as crisp on Sunday. Beyond even the turnover trying to make a late-clock pass to Jaylen Brown, Tatum had other instances like being a little too wide on a cross-court pass to Marcus Smart, preventing him from a rhythm 3 on one late-fourth series.

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In Tatum’s defense, he had a whole bunch of sequences in transition where, with multiple defenders loaded up in front of him, he kicked out to corner shooters but Payton Prichard and Derrick White missed open looks. The Celtics shot 24.3 percent beyond the arc overall and the NBA’s tracking had Tatum at 13 potential assists despite finishing at only four overall. That’s at least nine missed opportunities that Boston squandered in a one-possession game.

Because this is a copycat league, the Celtics spent Monday’s off-day practice trying to tighten up their execution when teams double. The good news: The NBA’s tracking data suggests they’re typically pretty good at punishing teams for throwing extra bodies at Tatum.

Doncic leads the NBA while being double-teamed an average of 18.4 times per game (or 31.3 percent of his total possessions), according to the NBA’s CourtOptix tracking data. The Mavericks average 1.16 points per possession in those instances.

Tatum is tied for 10th this season while being double teamed 14.2 times per game (or 30.4 percent of his offensive touches). The Celtics average the same 1.16 points per possession as the Mavericks do with Doncic.

Among the most double-teamed players in the league, only a handful are better than Tatum and Doncic at making opponents pay. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo -- with all the shooting around him in Milwaukee -- averages 1.24 points per double-teamed possession. Among the top 20 -- the only data that the NBA makes publicly available at the moment -- only Bradley Beal (1.25) had a better mark.

If Tatum continues his second-half explosion, teams are going to commit even more energy to getting the ball out of his hands. Jaylen Brown and Co. need to take that as an affront and punish teams.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka stressed to his squad the need to be just a little bit better in those situations. The Mavericks routinely made the extra passes off Doncic’s initial pass out of a double and were rewarded with great shots. The Celtics too often struggled just to get the ball from Tatum.

“I mentioned it [Sunday] night: Not being as sharp or crisp as we have been against the double teams and traps,” Udoka said Monday before his team headed west for a four-game road trip. “[The Mavericks] doubled [Tatum] off pick and rolls or in isolations, they hid off of the closest man and so, playmakers behind it, we just had a ton of great shots out of it. We went big and small, those guys in the pocket making plays and you look at all the numbers in the shots and the expected points, it was a pretty big win on our part because we had great looks out of it. 

"And, like I said, I just felt like we were a little off, being that we saw it a lot this year and Jayson has pretty much blitzed off everybody and got some really good looks and so we really touched on that [Monday]. Cleaned up a few things, areas we know we’re going to see that going forward, and the proper spots to get guys in.”

How exactly can Boston be better?

"The spacing. Getting guys to their outlets and then everybody else behind it to kind of limit their rotations,” Udoka said. "We want bigs to occupy the rim and take out one of their guys there, finding the middle always is a good antidote to that, and you have your numbers behind it. And then sprinting to outlets to not leave Jayson hanging at that point. Confident in our wings and guards to make plays out of that. 

"Like I said, we've seen it quite a bit this year and have been one of the best teams against it… But we weren't as crisp or sharp against their traps. And, with that being said, it came down to us trapping Doncic, them trapping Jayson, and Dinwiddie hitting a shot and we missed a few wide-open ones.”

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