On this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast, Larry Hughes and I broke down the match-up with the Boston Celtics, the Wizards’ play-in game opponent. Obviously, Hughes watches a lot of Wizards games but he’s also especially familiar with the Celtics. Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum is Hughes’ godson and also from St. Louis, home to both Hughes and Bradley Beal.
Given his familiarity with the Celtics and Tatum, specifically, I asked Hughes to provide a game-plan for how the Wizards can best match-up with them. For a detailed, nuanced breakdown I would encourage you to check out the whole episode. I will try to summarize the key points here for discussion’s sake.
With Jaylen Brown out with an injury for the rest of the season, stopping Tatum needs to be their top priority. Per Hughes, the best way to slow down a talented but still growing player like Tatum is to make him have to keep adjusting and not allow him to get comfortable.
Hughes believes that the Wizards should double-team Tatum some of the time to force him to be a passer, especially since the Celtics don’t have their full complement of offensive weapons available. By changing up the coverage, the Wizards can throw off his one-on-one game and make him pass before he would want to do so.
I also asked Hughes who should draw the primary assignment of covering Tatum. He believes that, “Everyone should see a piece of J (Tatum), making sure that he’s getting different looks.”
“There’s an advantage to have Russell (Westbrook) and Brad (Beal) spend some time on Jayson because of how well they move their feet,” said Hughes. “I think if you’re going to guard Jayson, you’re not going to just guard him with length so you have to bring in the right quickness piece of that to make him do things before he’s ready to do things.”
Hughes believe that while it’s tough for the Wizards to match Tatum’s combined length and quickness, it still makes sense to throw several bigger defenders at him as well. He thought that Rui Hachimura, Chandler Hutchison, Anthony Gill, and maybe even Isaac Bonga may see minutes on Tatum, as forcing him to shoot over length some of the time would be advantageous.
We also spent a good deal of time talking about how the Celtic’s penchant for small-ball makes them an interesting team to match-up with. Hughes thought this might be a good opportunity to start Robin Lopez as his proclivity for boxing out and keeping opponents off the offensive glass might serve them well against Tristan Thompson, who is an aggressive offensive rebounder.
Bringing Daniel Gafford off the bench would give him an advantage against shorter, less athletic Boston reserves like Grant Williams. This way Gafford could effectively protect the rim and not be challenged much as a lob threat. Alex Len could be mixed in as well to give them another big body around the rim.
We both felt strongly this is not the game for the Wizards to roll out their starting recent lineup of Westbrook, Beal, Hachimura, Davis Bertans, and Alex Len. Hughes did believe that the Celtics going small and playing Tatum at the 4 could work to the Wizards benefit in one way. Essentially, it would make it harder for them to exploit Bertans defensively.
With Tatum at the 4, if Bertans did end up on him there’s a higher likelihood that Bertans would be surrounded by quicker defenders who could stay in front of Tatum if a switch were to take place. Hughes explains this much more succinctly during the episode than I’m able to here.
We also discussed why the Wizards would rather see the Indiana Pacers than the Charlotte Hornets if they lost to Boston and why the Brooklyn Nets would be a better first-round opponent than the Philadelphia 76ers.
Additionally, we talked about whether Russell Westbrook is the best playmaker in the NBA, his “no sugarcoating” style of leadership, and why we both think there’s a strong chance Scott Brooks is back next season. Hughes makes the case for why he expects the Wizards to try to bring in a bigger name assistant coach to bolster Brooks’ staff.