How the Pacers can counter the Celtics’ early screens

Here’s how the Indiana Pacers can counter a common action run by the Celtics.

Brad Stevens is an omniscient offensive mind. His offensive sets bamboozle opposing defenses, putting his players in ideal positions to score. In the Indiana Pacers most recent matchup with the Celtics, Stevens cracked Indiana’s defense, scoring 117 points in a 20 point victory. One of the most effective tactics Stevens had his guys execute in this matchup was the early offense weakside screen.

One of the NBA’s best defensive teams, Indiana is stout in its rotations and weak side assignments. However, the Celtics found a way to bypass their fundamental prowess altogether.

They did this by attacking before the defense could properly set up; the Celtics effectively neutralized all of what makes the Pacers’ defense as dominant as it is.

Take this play late in the first quarter. Cory Joseph loafs down the court, unaware of his man trailing. Aron Baynes sets a hard screen on Joseph, leaving Kyrie Irving wide open for the three:

Again, Joseph sags way too far into the paint to start the possession and the Celtics exploit this tendency. Two screens for Irving force Joseph into a trail position, coaxing help rotations and giving up the wide open corner triple:

This time Bojan Bogdanovic is Boston’s prey here; the Celtics see him napping — standing closer to the paint than his man — entangling him among two screens, and Jayson Tatum takes a decent look at a floater:

Even when the initial weak side screening doesn’t result in a shot, the offense keeps flowing until the Celtics unearth their desired look.

Tatum runs off two screens here toward the middle of the floor, prompting Bogdanovic to switch onto Al Horford. While this possession dies as a result of some fantastic post defense by Bogdanovic, the early screen created a favorable matchup which the Celtics will seek to punish:

Once again, early screen actions set the flow for the rest of the offensive possession. Baynes’ initial pindown creates a slim advantage for the Boston offense, allowing them to flow from handoff to pick and roll into a wide open Horford jumper.

A simple counter to this offensive strategy exists, though: pressure.

Pressuring the ball handler starting at half court would be a good idea, especially if that ball handler is Kyrie Irving, who loves to push in early offense against favorable matchups. But more important than on-ball pressure is picking up weak side offensive players at half court, too.

Go back to the second clip in this piece. If Joseph began his symbiosis with Irving at half court, he’d be in a great position to fight around the screens and nullify the advantage. This goes for all of the previous examples. Pressure early, don’t be blindsided by an atypically timed screen.

Most opponents don’t set weak side screens that high up the court, but the Celtics are not like most teams, for better or for worse. This weak side early screen is one of many creative wrinkles the Indiana Pacers will face in their first-round playoff matchup. It is up to Nate McMillan to study the tape and adjust accordingly.