Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Friday: Where can Boston generate some offense?

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“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time”

—Unfortunately it was not long enough. RIP Prince.

1) At home, can the Celtics find a way to keep it close early and give themselves a chance?
Down 2-0 in the series, allow me to be Captain Obvious and say Game 3 is must win for Boston. The first step for the Celtics in getting that win? Don’t go down by 17 points early. The first two games in the series followed the same script of Atlanta dominating early — behind Al Horford, who has averaged 20 points a game in the first two — then the Celtics scraping and clawing their way back (with varying degrees of success). Boston can’t play that game again. Sounds simple enough (this is where the “we just have to play harder” cliche comes in), but executing it is going to be more difficult. Which brings us to….

2) How can Boston generate points against Atlanta’s stout defense? It’s been a perfect storm of trouble for Boston: They weren’t a good outside shooting team to begin with, they lost Avery Bradley who was one of their few good shooters, and Atlanta has the second-best defense in the NBA during the regular season. Boston has looked rushed by that defense — even when a Celtic gets an open look they are shooting too quickly to get it off before the help arrives, and with that he gets out of rhythm and misses.

Isaiah Thomas is counted on to generate good looks for the Celtics, both for himself and others, but he is shooting just 33 percent this series thanks to a combination of Jeff Teague’s length and the great help defense of the Hawks. Stevens has to get Thomas going. Maybe move him to two guard and have Marcus Smart handle the ball, running Thomas off staggered screens or pin downs to get open. Brad Stevens needs to come up with something because the Celtics needs points.

3) At home, can the Pistons get better production — especially defense — from their bench? Through the first two games of the Pistons/Cavaliers first round series, the Detroit starting five (Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond) are playing the Cavaliers fairly closely. Those starters have played half the team’s minutes together — 48 — and are just -2 points per 100 possessions against the vaunted Cavaliers. However, as a team the Pistons are -10.7 per 100 for the series — once the bench players come in, the Pistons struggle.

As our own Dan Feldman of NBC noted, in Game 2 – with LeBron James playing – Cleveland outscored Detroit by 11 in the six minutes with the majority of Pistons starters on the bench (early in the second and fourth quarters). The Pistons starters can’t make up that ground.

Role and bench players tend to play better at home where they are comfortable — the Pistons will need that to avoid an 0-3 hole. In particular, once the bench players come in they need to do better defending the pick-and-roll. Cleveland has torn up the Pistons pick-and-roll defense — the starters do not get off blameless here by any stretch, they need to improve on P&R defense, but the bench has been a mess. If that doesn’t change, the series could end on the Piston’s home court over the weekend.